Parliament - Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown on Tuesday suggested board members of Transnet, South Africa's state owned freight and logistics company, could be "rotated" should they not guard the integrity of the entity.
Brown was speaking in a meeting of Parliament's standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) where MPs took Transnet board members and executives to task for not pitching up to account to the committee during a scheduled hearing on December 6 last year.
"If boards and executives are unable to do what's necessary to restore company credibility then rotation is an inevitability," said Brown.
"I think the board has probably not understood the gravitas of actions that happened on the 6th."
The word rotation is used to describe sweeping changes to the composition of boards. The boards of all South Africa's state-owned companies are up for departmental review in the next few months.
"The processes started late last year and the beginning of this year to look at rotation and how we strengthen boards," the minister said.
On suggestions from MPs that Transnet board members and executives be declared delinquent and face consequences, Brown said this was up to the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission.
Brown also had to explain her absence from last year's collapsed Scopa meeting, saying she was ill. Asked how she could be sick and still attend a Cabinet meeting on the same day, Brown said she received permission from her doctors to "get off the machine" and meet with fellow ministers because it was close to where she was. She would not disclose the nature of her illness, insisting it was private.
Earlier during the meeting, MPs read Transnet chairwoman Linda Mabaso and her team the riot act for their failure to account to Parliament as is required by law. Parliament resorted to issuing them with summonses to appear on Tuesday.
The board members and senior executives were forced to take an oath to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth", before MPs took them to task.
Excuses for their absence during last year's meeting ranged from one board member being on holiday, another not being prepared and one just having had a baby.
MPs were not impressed. African National Congress (ANC) MP Vincent Smith said the board and executives, some of whom were in Cape Town for the meeting but left after board chairwoman Linda Mabaso told them not to attend, had breached the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).
"The severity of what you are faced with ... the PFMA talks about imprisonment, section 86 (2) talks of imprisonment and or a fine and I'm not threatening you I am promising you," an irate Smith said.
"Not another state-owned company going to go down because the board has failed its fiduciary duties."
Section 86 (2) of the PFMA states that an accounting authority, which in this case is the Transnet board, could be fined and/or jailed "for a period not exceeding five years" if found guilty of an offence, including failing to account to Parliament.
Mabaso responded that board members were not available or prepared for the meeting, despite a media release from Transnet indicating that they were. She also cited short notice of the meeting.
The ANC's Mnyami Booi dismissed Mabaso's rationalisation saying the chairwoman was in a meeting of Scopa in November in which the December 6th hearing was agreed upon. He accused her of defying the Constitution and lying.
"She was talking about 48 hours notice. She was in Scopa and she agreed and that is where the dishonesty is arising," said Booi.
Economic Freedom Fighters MP Ntombovuyo Mente said the board members and management were insulting Parliament and its legislators by lying.
"The board should be declared delinquent and criminal charges need to be laid ... ," said Mente.
Her Democratic Alliance counterpart, David Ross, said the no show of the board and management of Transnet was not being taken seriously by the implicated parties and that this was disappointing given that Transnet recorded R692 million in irregular expenditure, R21 million in fruitless and wasteful expenditure and millions more in questionable contracts.
"There is an integrity crisis and I think there must be consequences."
Nthabiseng Khunou, ANC MP, reminded the committee that public money was spent on last year's collapsed meeting, insisting that Parliament, the Hawks and Treasury had to be reimbursed for the costs.
"This is public money and we are going to make sure each and every cent paid by taxpayers are protected," said Khunou.
Inkantha Freedom Party MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa suggested the money come out of Mabaso's pocket, saying she had "engineered the collapse of a parliamentary meeting.".
"I missed lectures for two days to come here only for the board chairperson to have the nerve, cheek and audacity to tell us she was in Johannesburg ... and to sit here with a don't care face exemplifies the problem," Hlengwa said.
"The first person who must walk the plank is the chairperson. In fact she must carry the full costs in her personal capacity ... the bottom line is this chairperson of the board is derailing Transnet."
African News Agency/ANA