Scorpio

Scorpio Editorial

Prasa Corruption: Advocate Batohi’s NPA needs courage and conviction to act

Prasa Corruption: Advocate Batohi’s NPA needs courage and conviction to act
Illustrative image | Sources: Former Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) CEO Lucky Montana (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Esa Alexander) / National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Shamila Batohi (Photo: Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe) / Prasa trains (Photo: Gallo)

Unless the NPA turns reports into corruption at state-owned enterprises into charge sheets, entities like Prasa will continue to fall victim to unscrupulous looters – a dismal state of affairs contributing to the growing cloud of disillusionment hanging over President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ‘new dawn’. Shamila Batohi's NPA must find the courage and conviction to act now for the sake of South Africa.

In pure monetary terms, our revelations today regarding “ghost” invoices settled on behalf of ex-Prasa CEO Lucky Montana are a train’s length away from being the biggest corruption scandal Daily Maverick has unearthed or reported on.

Prasa’s R2.6-billion contract for unsuitable locomotives and the R2-billion VBS fiasco, to name just two examples, dwarf the R4-million allegedly looted from Prasa in late 2018. Not to mention the multibillion-rand State Capture deals Scorpio and its #GuptaLeaks partners exposed in 2017.

However, despite the relatively small amount of money involved, this troubling development at one of South Africa’s many scandal-ridden SOEs deserves our full attention.

It is an important story because it encapsulates the boundless and ongoing impunity still enjoyed by the likes of Montana, even as the supposed “new dawn” phase of this country’s recent history nears its second anniversary.

Montana left Prasa at the end of 2015 following a series of procurement disasters. Former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s “Derailed” report recommended that contracts valued at more than R10-million awarded during Montana’s time in charge be subjected to forensic investigations.

Considering the amount of contracts involved, this was a gargantuan and expensive task. The cost of this endeavour, largely made up of bills from the law firms and auditors appointed by the former Prasa board, ran into hundreds of millions of rand. The exercise consequently drew a fair amount of criticism, but the probes were generally viewed as being necessary and justified. After all, the investigations’ price tag was small compared to the billions Prasa stood to recover or save by clawing back some of the monies spent on dodgy contracts and halting expenditure on ongoing deals. This would have been achieved through successful civil litigation based on the forensic reports.

But recovering the looted billions represents only one side of the accountability coin. Without criminal prosecutions against top officials and their private sector accomplices, these individuals aren’t in any way compelled to cease their destructive dealings.

The latest revelations around Montana and Prasa are a case in point.

Three years after Montana’s departure from the SOE, the long arm of the law has evidently not managed to dismantle the deeply-entrenched capture networks he helped establish. In fact, Scorpio understands that the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have barely made any progress on their so-called Prasa investigations, some of which are now four years old.

Only in such an environment of unfettered impunity could someone like Montana not only get away with his original misdemeanours but also return to the proverbial scene of the crime for another round of looting.

Werksmans, one of the law firms appointed by the Prasa board after Madonsela’s recommendation, came to a disturbing conclusion.

The scale and size of the alleged corruption, fraud, theft, money-laundering and other risks identified is of a nature that is unprecedented in the history of state-owned enterprises in South Africa since the dawn of democracy in 1994,” reads a passage from one of the firm’s many Prasa reports.

Werksmans, Bowmans and other law firms and auditing outfits have provided law enforcement entities with a mountain of detailed reports on the “unprecedented” corruption at Prasa during Montana’s tenure. Over the years, these law enforcement bodies have also been furnished with similar forensic reports on other SOEs and government departments.

Unless the NPA turns these reports into charge sheets, entities like Prasa will continue to fall victim to unscrupulous looters, a dismal state of affairs contributing to the growing cloud of disillusionment hanging over President Cyril Ramaphosa’s so-called new dawn.

Law-abiding South Africans simply ask that corruption be met with the necessary legal repercussions, regardless of how powerful those implicated in such dealings happen to be.

This reporter counts among a growing number of people who are starting to suspect that the NPA lacks the conviction, independence and backbone necessary to prosecute the politically-connected architects of grand corruption.

If advocate Shamila Batohi and her colleagues feel aggrieved by this statement, they should be more than capable of proving us wrong.

Their power to do so is guaranteed and protected by our Constitution. DM

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