South Africa


Mbalula defends appointment of Prasa administrator as committee grills him in Parliament

Mbalula defends appointment of Prasa administrator as committee grills him in Parliament
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula. (Photo: Sune Payne)

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, appearing before Parliament’s transport committee, insists that the appointment of Bongisizwe Mpondo as Prasa administrator is legal and correct.

A potential court case is not slowing down Fikile Mbalula as he came out with all guns blazing in Parliament on Tuesday in defence of his appointment of Bongisizwe Mpondo, the administrator for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). 

Mbalula appeared before the transport committee to speak about the appointment of Mpondo, as well as give an update on the entity’s woes. But ultimately Mbalula had to defend his appointment of Mpondo who has been in this position since November 2019. Mbalula is being taken to court by activist coalition #UniteBehind on the basis that they believe the minister did not follow due process in Mpondo’s appointment in December 2019. On Tuesday, many of the committee’s questions were about the appointment of Mpondo and whether his appointment was illegal. 

According to Mbalula, Cabinet approved placing Prasa under administration and Treasury had been informed of this decision. But #UniteBehind argues that in terms of Section 29 of the Legal Succession to the South African Transport Services Act, the judicial management of Prasa may only happen under the authority of an Act of Parliament. On Tuesday Mbalula stated in Parliament:

“I’ve got no appetite to be fighting in court. I’d rather be here.” 

According to court papers seen by Daily Maverick, the minister has until 28 February to file an answering affidavit. The application to set aside Mpondo’s appointment will be heard on 17 March 2020.

During the committee meeting, Mbalula and Department of Transport Director-General Alec Moemi made several references to media reports about the state of rail services in the country and repeated previous statements about the appointment of Mpondo, mainly those made after his appointment in November. Daily Maverick reported on Mpondo’s appointment at the time. Later, they kept repeating that the matter was now sub judice, so they could not go into the legalities thereof. 

Some members of #UniteBehind were in Parliament on Tuesday and later said:

“What those who rely on Prasa’s services require is lawful, stable, ethical leadership in the form of a permanent board and executive. Prasa has been without a permanent board since 2017… There can be no doubt that Prasa cannot be fixed by one man who is both accounting authority (board) and acting CEO. We have already lost billions of rands because of a failure of oversight. Minister Fikile Mbalula has now laid the basis for further violations of the PFMA (Public Finance Management Act) and Constitution. 

“We appeal to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) to act diligently and without delay to ensure that Prasa has a lawfully constituted accounting authority.”

Moemi showed the transport committee chairperson — the controversial Mosebenzi Zwane — a letter from Treasury approving the appointment of Mpondo. Moemi said later that he wished that the matter was not before the court, but “those who want to go to court, let them go to court”.

Aside from the legality of Mpondo’s appointment, questions were also raised about why he was not present.

DA MP Thami Mabhena said that “as the committee, we haven’t seen the warm body that is the administrator. We’ve seen him in other committees, but we don’t know if he’s short or long”.

Mbalula and Mpondo appeared before Scopa, Parliament’s finance watchdog, earlier in February in a follow-up to a November 2019 meeting, where, according to Mbalula, the interim board “couldn’t answer questions”.

Mbalula said of Mpondo’s absence that “it is proper that the people who took the decision (to hire Mpondo) must first explain the decision”.

Prasa spokesperson Makhosini Mgitywa told Daily Maverick “the administrator was not invited to Parliament today”. The committee decided that Mpondo should appear before them in the future. DM


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