Parliament

Parliament: New Prasa board urged to tackle urgent commuter issues

By Suné Payne 18 April 2018

Photo: Metrorail carriages are frequently overcrowded, making it dangerous for commuters trying to get to work. Archive photo: Tariro Washinyira

At a briefing on Tuesday at which the new board failed to present itself, MPs questioned Prasa officials on everything from commuter safety at Metrorail to the entity’s lack of financial statements to Parliament.

 

The new interim board of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa missed a Parliamentary meeting on Tuesday, attended by new Minister of Transport, Blade Nzimande. It had been Nzimande’s first meeting with the transport portfolio committee after being appointed to the position under the new President, Cyril Ramaphosa.

MPs were understanding about the absence of the brand new board, which was announced on Thursday, saying that members needed to first meet Prasa management. Chairperson of the committee, Dikiledi Magadzi told MPs the new board was not able to attend but were “willing and eager to come to the committee” in future.

The committee had a difficult time with the previous interim board, which repeatedly snubbed Parliament. In frustration, the committee had resorted to issuing a subpoena for the board to finally account to Parliament, as reported by Daily Maverick.

Prasa secretary Lindekhaye Zide and group head of strategy Sipho Sithole represented the agency at Tuesday’s meeting.

Nzimande told portfolio committee members that the commuter and management problems at Prasa and Metrorail needed to be fixed urgently. He identified one of the department’s plans for the year — the rolling stock renewal programmes, which will see new train sets added to the overburdened rail system. At this point, attention focused quickly on the issues of poor commuter service, especially with Metrorail in the Western Cape.

Of course, buried in this is safety, especially Metrorail. It’s got to take all of us,” said Nzimande, referring to the need for all roleplayers to work together to fix the issues.

Prasa officials were questioned on issues such as commuter safety, the entity’s relationship with the Railway Safety Regulator and most importantly, future plans to make trains available for commuters “tomorrow.”

We wish this appointment {of the new board} was three years, not one year,” said Prasa secretary, Lindekhaye Zide, who stressed the importance of leadership stability at the embattled state entity. The management of Prasa felt the government “doesn’t take them seriously” by not appointing a permanent board, saying that leadership stability at the entity was needed.

Many MPs singled out commuter issues around Metrorail in Cape Town.

Prasa’s corporate plan and annual performance plan was in the future, not for tomorrow, complained Manny de Freitas, committee member and DA shadow minister for transport. He wanted to know what immediate plans Prasa had to fix the safety for commuters.

Concurring, Terence Mpanza (ANC) put it simply by saying: “We want practical plans to say how we are going to fix this.”

This was echoed by chairperson Magadzi, who questioned how Prasa could have a customer satisfaction rating of 59.49% when the committee had received so many complaints from the public.

Clearly sceptical about the rating, she appealed to Prasa officials to ensure proper communication was available for commuters to keep them informed about what was going on when travelling between stations.

Stressing the importance of finding solutions for the commuter crisis in Cape Town, Magadzi added,”it is very important that we look into the quick wins for the commuters”.

I’m worried about the Western Cape. We are getting complaints daily,” said Mtikeni Sibande (ANC), who questioned the relationship between Prasa and the Railway Safety Regulator. The RSR is mandated to ensure regulations, safety standards and frameworks for railway transport in the country.

Zide admitted with the constant “stop and go” at Prasa with its board, the relationship between the entities suffered, but was hopeful under the new leadership that the relationship could be restored.

Another major talking point was that the entity had not submitted their financial statements for the financial year 2016/2017. It only submitted its corporate plan at the meeting.

DA MP Chris Hunsinger questioned the department’s oversight role since Prasa’s financial statements had been outstanding since September 2017.

Magadzi said that Prasa received the biggest chunk of the department’s budget, and they needed to know how the budget would be accounted for.

According to department of Transport data, of the department’s 2016/2017 budget of R56,407-billion, Prasa received just over R19-billion.

Magadzi appealed to Prasa officials to meet the new board ahead of the department’s scheduled budget vote in Parliament, to be held in mid-May. DM

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