South Africa

Derailed

Prasa board prioritises rescue plan in time of crisis

Photo by Brent Meersman/GroundUp On 23 February 2022, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa updated the Western Cape legislature on its plans to reverse its decline in service. (Archive photo: Brent Meersman)

The Prasa board held a press briefing on Thursday to show they are on track with a cleanup of the troubled entity. This followed a week that has seen yet another train attack fatality and accusations that the Passenger Rail Agency of SA has not paid its required R16-million for a Western Cape rail safety unit, and the release of their annual report -- a year late.

It’s not just about business as usual, it’s about rescuing (Prasa),” said the agency’s interim board chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama, during a press briefing on Thursday, following the release of the entity’s much-anticipated release of its 2016/2017 Annual Report which was due in September last year.

The numbers released in its report are horrifying — the entity is running at a loss of R928-million over the past financial year. Its irregular expenditure sits at almost R19.6-billion. The Auditor-General’s office notes in the report that “the Prasa group did not have an adequate system for identifying and disclosing all irregular and fruitless and wasteful expenditure”.

During the briefing, Kweyama admitted that Prasa’s financials depict a “business that is bleeding, an organisation that is broken and which now demands immediate intervention”.

The board was focusing now on its core mandate: “Providing a reliable, available, predictable, and safe passenger service that is affordable.”

She said that the board has developed a Rescue Plan to address the ongoing crisis at Prasa. This includes fast-tracking Prasa’s modernisation programme to improve commuter travel experiences, filling of vacancies for critical operation and bringing stability to the organisation. Additionally, it was revealed during the briefing that 10 Prasa employees currently face disciplinary charges related to both revelations made in former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Derailed report and internal Prasa investigations.

Train services have often been labelled as late, chaotic and at times, deadly. One man was killed last Friday during a robbery on board a moving train. A group of men were robbed at gunpoint and thrown off a train, and one was killed.

Prasa has been accused of failing to contribute its R16-million towards a joint railway safety unit between the entity, the City of Cape Town and Western Cape provincial government.

On Sunday, Mayco member for Transport and Urban Development, Brett Herron accused Prasa of failing to pay its share of the new unit and Western Cape premier Helen Zille questioned why Prasa had not paid its share during a visit to 71 new railway safety officers who will be deployed to Cape Town stations and trains in October.

Earlier in September, Nceba Hinana, standing committee chairperson on Transport and Public Works in the Western Cape Provincial Parliament asked the Public Protector to investigate Metrorail’s “abysmal” services. A meeting between the Public Protector’s office and Hinana took place on Thursday, and a press conference is scheduled for Friday afternoon. However, the press conference was cancelled at last minute with no explanation given yet.

During Prasa’s media briefing, interim Prasa Group CEO Sibusiso Sithole acknowledged that safety and security was a huge problem at the entity, saying that vandalism, safety and attacks on staff is a “vulnerability” commuters face.

The fact that the board is only an interim grouping — the second interim board since November — has been cited as a destabilising factor, with calls for a permanent board to be appointed to steer continuity.

Beyond the entity’s financials and the ongoing blame game between the spheres of government and Prasa, at the crux of the train crisis is a question by a Daily Sun reporter at Thursday’s briefing: “When will train operations run smoothly?” DM

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