OP-ED

Prasa: Shoddy train service causes a litany of pain and despair

By Matthew Hirsch 18 May 2018

File Photo by GroundUp.

It is essential to have a State Capture inquiry into Prasa akin to what happened at Eskom. They must #FixOurTrains.

Governance issues at state-owned enterprises (SoEs) affect thousands of people on a daily basis. This is most obvious at Prasa. Its subsidiary, Metrorail, has been crippled by mismanagement and corruption under previous leadership at the SOE. Prasa has a legal mandate directs to deliver commuter rail services in the metropolitan areas of South Africa, long-distance (inter-city) rail and bus services within, to and from the borders of the Republic of South Africa. This mandate is implemented in consultation with and under the authority of the Minister of Transport.

However, this mandate has not been properly followed, leading to a deterioration in service. Ask any Cape Town commuter about the quality of service, and you will receive a litany of despair. The trains are often delayed by at least an hour, frequently cancelled, overcrowded, and most of the time the doors and and windows of the carriages are broken.

In February 2018, Shamese Abib opened a case of wrongful death against Prasa. A month before her 19-year-old son Keeno had taken the train to Muizenberg for a Saturday out on the beach. What was supposed to be a fun day out with his friends turned into tragedy. Between Lakeside and False Bay stations, he jumped from a moving train where the doors were not closed to avoid muggers. He later succumbed to the injuries he suffered from his fall. Up until this day Prasa have not been in contact with Shamese.

Keeno’s death is not an isolated incident. According to the Railway Safety Regulator’s (RSR) latest State of Safety report, last year 495 people died on the rail system while over 2,000 people were injured. Last year, 16 people died due to criminal acts on the rail service, and over 500 were injured by criminals operating on the rails.

The Metrorail service is also plagued by constant delays and cancellations. Hundreds of thousands of commuters that rely on the service are late for school and work, and face the risk of losing their jobs. #UniteBehind has documented many cases where commuters have lost their jobs as a direct result of delayed and cancelled trains. Commuters’ mental and physical well-being are severely affected by the poor service.

In the beginning of this year the Cape Town Central Line was closed for almost two months, with little or no communication relayed to commuters about when it would be re-opened.

How did this happen?

It is simple. State Capture, akin to what happened at Eskom. According to a document released by #UniteBehind dubbed #Prasa Leaks, former President Jacob Zuma and his cronies played a key role in illicitly taking control of Prasa.

On 24 August 2015, former Public Protector Adv Thulisile Madonsela released Derailed: A report on an investigation into allegations of maladministration, financial mismanagement, tender irregularities and appointment irregularities against Prasa.

The Public Protector found evidence of systemic maladministration at nearly all levels of Prasa, particularly in their financial management, tendering and appointment processes. One of the most important remedial actions prescribed by Adv. Madonsela was to instruct the Chairman of the Prasa Board (then Sfiso Buthelezi) to“commission the National Treasury in conducting a forensic investigation into all Prasa contracts above R10m since 2012 and take measures to address any findings regarding systemic administrative deficiencies allowing ongoing maladministration and related improprieties in its procurement system”. The National Treasury then conducted investigations into over 200 Prasa contracts over R10-million and found that only 13 could be considered above-board. But the contents of these Treasury reports were kept from public view.

#PrasaLeaks contained information from the Treasury reports. It showed that other criminal enterprises other than the well-documented Guptas were involved in State Capture, and that other officials may be implicated in capturing Prasa.

By law, Prasa must provide a passenger rail service that is safe, reliable, affordable, accessible and of an acceptable standard. The Minister of Transport must also ensure that Prasa has sufficient funds, infrastructure and rolling stock to give effect to this obligation. Financial management, procurement and asset protection are the responsibility of the Prasa Board and Executive Management.

Stability within Prasa, as well as the Department of Transport, is essential for its good functioning. Without this, it will be impossible to fix the damage done by previous boards and Prasa leadership. In the last three years alone there have been seven Group CEOs at Prasa (including those in an acting role), four boards, as well as three Ministers of Transport. There must be permanent, stable, committed, and capable leadership.

In February this year, MPs were left frustrated and furious after the previous Prasa interim board failed to show up for a Portfolio Committee Meeting on Metrorail. They had to be eventually subpoenaed to appear.

The Chairperson of that interim Board of Control, Judge Tintswalo Makhubele controversially resigned earlier this year following questions about her role, as she was simultaneously a chairperson of a SoE and a judge at the High Court.

As yet, no date has been set for the parliamentary inquiry into State Capture and maladministration at Prasa.

We are entering a new phase of the struggle for safe, efficient, reliable, and quality trains. A new Prasa Board has been formed. It is crucial that the new board at Prasa plays a proactive role. They must act decisively. They must deliver Prasa’s mandate. They must listen to civil society and the unheard voices of commuters. They must #FixOurTrains. DM

Matthew Hirsch is Media and Communications Officer for #UniteBehind

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