The ANC in its manifesto confirmed the importance of rail services. It states that it will “invest in rail infrastructure to ensure it is safe, reliable and integrated with other modes of public transport. Rail must be the backbone of our public transport system”.
This pledge comes after yet another train crash in the City of Tshwane that is shocking but not surprising, in fact, it was inevitable. The Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) stated after the crash that Prasa “continued to demonstrate the highest levels of lethargy and disregard for rail safety in its operations”, and that it contravened its own standard operating procedures as well as the directives issued to it by the regulator.
The ANC-led government has had the duty to deliver this promise in the past 25 years. However, decades of mismanagement, corruption and a lack of care has directly led to the breakdown of South Africa’s rail system.
Since 2010, 3,642 have died and 15,634 people have been injured on our railways. Between 2015 and 2018, R213.744-million was paid out to victims while a total of R503.552 million has been lost due to vandalism and derailments. Behind the shocking statistics are truly horrifying stories of how the ANC and by extension Prasa has failed their employees and commuters.
In March 2018, it was revealed that there are only 89 operational police officers to protect more than 500,000 commuters travelling by train every day in the Western Cape. Many commuters are left with no alternatives after the rail services are regularly suspended. This situation simply must not continue.
What is the response by Prasa and the successive ministers to the current crisis in rail? To continue to cover up corruption instead of providing proper and transparent leadership.
The real cause of the breakdown in services is that Prasa has been used as a piggy bank that pays out to cronies instead of providing a functioning rail system. The laundry list of allegations was laid bare in the then Public Protector’s 2015 “Derailed Report” that described how top officials at Prasa handed out contracts to friends and allies.
The Public Protector’s report instructed the National Treasury to investigate these findings. These reports, that were already finalised in December 2016, were eventually leaked to the public last year because of continued efforts to delay the findings. The forensic investigations recommended that criminal charges be laid against the Board of Prasa and various top-ranking officials, including the then-chairperson and current Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Sfiso Buthelezi.
The “Derailed” report showed R3.9-billion was spent on irregular, wasteful and fruitless expenditure. Lucky Montana, the former CEO of the parastatal, was found responsible for large-scale maladministration and wasteful expenditure.
However, three years after the Derailed report, billions were stolen from the entity and yet another Minister, no one has been charged or arrested. In the light of total ineptitude and a lack of political will, the DA laid charges against those implicated including Montana.
Precious resources have been syphoned off by connected cronies and no-one has been held accountable for the billions that have been stolen from Prasa. Real leadership in Prasa and the ministry would have resulted in immediate expulsion and prosecution of those implicated in corruption. It has become abundantly clear that until the rot is sorted out and real accountability and leadership are put in place, Prasa will remain derailed.
The DA has designed a rail plan that will create a safe and well-managed railway system which puts commuters first and will ensure job security. The plan is based on four aspects:
Stabilising and modernising the current rail system
The recommendations of the “Derailed” report must be implemented and an institutional clean up at Prasa must occur including installing a full-time board. A well-resourced dedicated police service should be re-established to protect both passengers and infrastructure. An urgent update is required to ascertain the progress on upgrading the current signal system to phase out the manual signal to prevent further crashes and derailment.
Merging Transnet and Prasa under the Department of Transport
This means all rail-related passenger and freight services should become the direct responsibility of the Minister of Transport. This will streamline decision-making and improve planning and integration.
Ceding control of Metrorail services to Metros
This process will see Metropolitan governments take over Metrorail functions gradually, which will ensure integrated public transportation systems and better governance. The Western Cape government and the city have already committed additional security personnel, thus ensuring increased protection of commuters and infrastructure at risk.
While the state should retain ownership of the infrastructure, the DA calls for the gradual privatisation of some railway operations. This will increase competition and choice for transportation in the rail sector.
The current situation cannot continue unabated and urgent intervention is required. South Africans have an opportunity to choose a party that has a plan to improve rail services in 2019. The DA’s plan is the only alternative to the ANC’s broken public railway transportation system. Our rail plan will put commuters first and ensure job security because it will be safe, efficient and corruption-free. DM
Phumzile van Damme is Team1SA Spokesperson on Corruption.