Madam, please leave… – Cachalia on “host of reasons” to sack Transnet CE

Mr Ghaleb Cachalia, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Shadow Minister for Public Enterprises has called for Transnet Chief Executive (CE) Portia Derby to be sacked. He speaks to BizNews after Ms Derby’s recent remarks at a business conference that there could be catastrophic job losses in the road transport sector when rail operations improved. Mr Cachalia says that instead of focusing on fixing what is wrong with Transnet’s freight rail system, Ms Derby is focusing on shoring up the trucking industry, which is not part of her mandate. He calls her “seemingly incompetent” and accuses her of moving the focus away from the much-touted Road-to-Rail Strategy, “which has never been properly implemented, which has resulted in huge failures…which has affected our economy massively…” – Chris Steyn

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:09 – Introductions
  • 00:26 – Why he’s called for Transnet chief executive Portia Derby to be sacked
  • 02:44 – On Transnet defending her comments
  • 04:08 – On where Minister Pravin Gordhan is in all of this
  • 05:54 – On the possibility that Transnet is losing a billion a month due to inefficiencies
  • 07:35 – What percentage of South Africa’s GDP is linked to important exports
  • 08:49 – When was the last time that a major railway was constructed in South Africa
  • 10:05 – Conclusions

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Highlights from the interview

There are “a host of reasons” for Transnet Chief Executive (CE) Portia Derby to be sacked.

That is the opinion of Mr Ghaleb Cachalia, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Shadow Minister for Public Enterprises.

He spoke to BizNews after Ms Derby’s recent remarks at a business conference that there could be catastrophic job losses in the road transport sector when rail operations improved. 

Cachalia calls this “the last straw”.

Read more: Transnet’s arch critic heralds its Durban Port’s Filipino partner as “best in world”

“…instead of focusing on fixing what is wrong with Transnet’s freight rail system, ensuring that goods are able to get to the ports so that…for example, the newly-appointed partner at the Durban port can actually get the goods out, instead of doing that, she is focusing on shoring up the trucking industry, which is not part of her mandate. 

“Her mandate is to run Transnet and a large proportion of Transnet’s business and responsibility and mandate is the freight rail business. And for her to expand her mandate, to shoring up mom-and-pop shops, as she says, in the trucking business is laughable to a degree, but extraordinarily serious, which is why we said that she is seemingly incompetent and as a result needs to be fired because what she is doing is moving the focus away from…the much-touted Road-to-Rail Strategy, which has never been properly implemented, which has resulted in huge failures…which has affected our economy massively…

“And now she’s playing with mom-and-pop shops. Really, this is unacceptable.”

Commenting on Transnet coming to Ms Derby’s defence by saying that her remarks had been taken out of context, Mr Cachalia says “Well… you know, whenever somebody says that, then you have to get worried…I’ve read what she said, it’s perfectly within context. I’ve read the context, I’ve seen the context, I’ve seen what she has said. I’ve heard nothing further from Transnet to say: ‘This was the context. These words were wrong. These words were right. It was said…in this particular way to do this’. 

“And it actually chimes with what she said in the past…when…instead of dealing with the issue, she talked about the need for more black mineral operators inclusion and farmers inclusion in the economy, rather than dealing with the issue at hand…which is a failing SOE, which is extremely important in our society and to our economy. So much so that the Minerals Council at the time then called for her to be fired. And this is Version Two.”

Read more: Durban Port to be partially privatised: Philippines’ ICTSI partners with Transnet to transform Africa’s largest harbour

According to Mr Cachalia, export projection figures for 2023 suggest volumes will drop to 40 million tons. “This is down from 50 million tons in 2022, which was in any event, two thirds of Transnet’s internal target. Now, instead of fixing up the targets that they set themselves, they’re playing on the verges with truckers. I mean, really… that’s what we deemed sabotage and why we’ve called for her to be fired. In any industry that I know.. if this was the result, the door would be opened and said, ‘Please, Madam, leave.”

Mr Cachalia points out that in 1989, Transnet carried 89% of the freight in this country, but it is now carrying only 20%. “And that figure is going down. Now you can blame it on COVID and you can blame it on floods and you can blame it on everything except saying that the dog has eaten your homework. 

“But, as I said before, you took the job to fix that. You will be faced in any industry with acts of God, with difficulties, with cyclical downturns, with all sorts of things. But being a CEO of a huge entity that pays you eight point five million per annum as your salary, then really you must bite the bullet and you must fix it and stop making excuses for what you are unable to do.”

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