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Court deadline approaches, but Prasa is still without a...

Business Maverick

DERAILED

Court deadline approaches, but Prasa is still without a board of control

Johannesburg's poorly guarded train stations will cost millions of rands to renovate and repair. (Photo by Gallo Images/Ziyaad Douglas)

With 11 days to go before the court-mandated appointment of a board of control, there is still no word on who will sit on the new board of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said there had been 300 applications for positions on the board of the embattled Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). But, with time running out for the court-mandated appointment, there is no clarity on who will be tasked with bringing stability to an entity that has not had stable board leadership since 2017.  

On 25 August, Judge Nathan Erasmus set aside the appointment of Prasa administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo, following a court application brought by the civil society coalition #UniteBehind. The coalition had argued before court that due process had not been followed in Mpondo’s appointment, as the laws governing Prasa only allowed for an act of Parliament or the judiciary – and not a minister – to appoint an administrator. 

Mbalula’s appointment of Prasa administrator declared unlawful

Following the Erasmus judgment, Mbalula was forced to appoint a new board of control within 60 days. At the time of writing (Monday 12 October), there were 11 days to meet this court deadline. 

“The Cape High Court set a deadline for the minister to appoint a board of control at Prasa within 60 days… the minister intends to meet this deadline,” said Mbalula’s spokesperson, Ayanda Allie-Paine.

After the judgment, #UniteBehind – who at the time of Mpondo’s appointment in December had already raised red flags about the legalities of the appointment of an administrator – said the judgment “paves the way for the immediate appointment of a permanent and competent board of control to stabilise Prasa and begin the process of fixing our trains”. 

A view of Orlando Metrorail Station situated in Orlando East, Soweto. (Photos by Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi)

The struggling rail agency has not had a permanent board of control since 2017, when the term of Popo Molefe’s board expired. Since then, there have been various interim boards appointed by former ministers of transport Joe Maswanganyi and Blade Nzimande. The last interim board was chaired by Madam Fix It, Khanyisile Kweyama, who had been appointed by Nzimande. When Mbalula took office after the 2019 national and provincial elections, he extended the term of Kweyama’s board, while consistently promising that a new board would be appointed. 

MPs hope that ‘Madam Fix It’ can mend outstanding issues at Prasa

But in December 2019, he fired Kweyama’s board and replaced it with an administrator – Mpondo. 

When asked by Daily Maverick what made Mbalula’s promises different to those of his predecessors, Alli-Paine said: “Minister Mbalula is absolutely committed to this process… he will certainly appoint a permanent board of control at Prasa and within the time frames set by the high court.”

The issue of interim boards and acting leadership at the entity has come in various forms: whether through the Zondo Commission or through Parliament, where the need for stable leadership at the entity has been laid bare.

Prasa-related testimony: Six questions that need to be asked

Allie-Paine told Daily Maverick that the Department of Transport had received 300 nominations, which were “wide-ranging and cover several skill sets”. 

Mbalula originally invited nominations for the board in May 2020, after months of saying that a board would be announced. At several media briefings where this reporter was present, Mbalula said there would be transparency in the announcement and selection of the new board. When asked about the transparency, Allie-Paine said: “Transparency does not only mean public interviews… we have begun the pre-appointment vetting of candidates and will also subject the appointed candidates to lifestyle audits.”

Allie-Paine said this was a key new measure in the appointment process while “the tight time frame set by the high court to conclude the process has robbed us of other key measures in the appointment process”. 

She continued: “The appointed candidates can only be informed of their appointment once the appointment process has been finalised.” DM

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