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Business and leaders of opposition parties have raised concerns that the resignation of Dube TradePort chief executive Rohan Persad in the wake of graft allegations, and the resignation of another senior executive, Ahmed Bassa, within a week, represent a major setback for the project.
Persad had been chief executive of the entity for almost a decade and Bassa has held the key position of aeronautical executive for several years.
Both had made a significant contribution to getting the trade port project off the ground.
They also have intimate knowledge of the strategic nature of the “aerotropolis” development – the biggest catalytic provincially led economic infrastructure project in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Dube TradePort has been held up as a great example of an economic development project for KZN,” said Andrew Layman, chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“A lot of good work has gone into getting this project off the ground over the years.
“Until this point they have done excellent work, but what has happened now is clearly going to disrupt the momentum,” Layman said.
“Actually, it is a huge setback for what is one of the most important economic development projects in Durban and KZN.
“There will be a recovery period to get operations back to the momentum they have achieved, with the loss of two vital executives.
“But, there is also the reputational side that has taken a hit as a result of the graft allegations,” he said.
Acting Dube TradePort chief executive Ayesha Swalah said last week that Bassa’s reason for resigning was that it was “time for him to move on to newer opportunities”.
However, the timing of Bassa’s resignation has raised questions.
Swalah would not comment further on the resignations or the impact they could have on Dube TradePort operations.
She directed queries to Bridgette Gasa, chairwoman of the Dube TradePort board.
Gasa played down the impact of the resignations on Dube TradePort’s operations.
“The board is focusing its energies in trying to find a new head for the organisation.
“Executives leave organisations all the time, the world over, and their departure hardly disrupts operations.
“Dube TradePort is an organisation with ably qualified executives and senior managers who are more than capable of managing such transitions,” she said.
The DA’s Tom Stokes said the second resignation at Dube TradePort would be a further setback for the project.
“There is legitimate concern that these resignations could stall the project.
“These are senior executives who have been involved for several years and Dube TradePort is one of the key economic generation projects for KZN.
“It is a huge investment by the provincial government and a long road has been travelled to get it going. The issues need to be sorted out expeditiously,” he said.
“We have been hearing rumours about problems at Dube TradePort as far back as nine months ago and mentioned it to the MEC [Michael Mabuyakhulu].
“Clearly there has not been sufficient oversight by the political head of Dube TradePort,” said Stokes.
Dube TradePort has been a fully fledged provincial parastatal for less than a year.
Before that it was a non-profit agency set up by the KZN government to promote and secure the development of a new international airport for KZN.
The IFP’s Lionel Mtshali has also raised questions about a lack of oversight.
“We have every reason to be concerned, considering the strategic importance of Dube TradePort.
“In terms of the budget, some 25 percent of the KZN Department of Economic Development and Tourism is allocated to Dube TradePort,” he said.
“We call for a full scale forensic investigation into Dube TradePort.
“The IFP will be demanding that the board appears before the KZN finance portfolio committee to explain what is going on,” Mtshali said.