You don’t need to be an economist to appreciate the pivotal role a functional transportation system plays in an economy. Historically, South Africa’s poor have relied on commuter taxi vans, metro rail and auto pax for their transportation. In fact these modes of transportation are throwbacks of apartheid era. Yet they were functional to the extent that they facilitated mobility among the black population.
Since 1994 the story of public transport in the hands of state entities, from the road to the sky, has been one of an unmitigated disaster. The story of SAA can best be told by more specialised experts. However, let’s take the case of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) in which some pertinent questions are crying out to be raised:
When Will the Governing Party, ANC, stop the destruction of the key state asset called PRASA? What is it that the poor South African Rail Commuter has done to deserve the catastrophic neglect that is current being visited upon them by the ruling elite, through the systematic destruction of the passenger rail system, commuter rail in particular (metrorail) and the long distance rail system (Shosholoza Meyl)?
What is it that the poor workers in the rail supply industries have done to the governing party to deserve the extensive service delivery failures of the companies they work for through the profound neglect and dysfunction of PRASA, which is being destroyed to such an extent that it can’t even procure security services for the network, let alone procure maintenance for the trains and rail infrastructure. The absence of security has predictably led to the near total vandalism and destruction of the railway system and infrastructure (stations, substations, railway lines, overhead electrical cables), a destruction that is near complete and will cost billions to repair. Needless to say all of this damage was avoidable and preventable if competent decision makers were in place.
What is it that the employees of prasa have done to deserve the worst forms of leadership that have been dumped on the business, from the dismissed board of Chairperson Kweyama to the now disastrous and clueless leadership of the so called Administrator. This Administrator has been on a hiring spree of individuals that are hopeless in managing a public utility. These include: 1. A one-time Brothel owner as spokesperson; 2. A man charged with fraud, and others implicated in tender irregularities at National Dept of Transport under Dipuo Peters, involving the same Administrator ; 3. A (former??) spy with serious character defects who caused the current destruction of the infrstructure through their termination of security contracts without a contingency plan with the complicity of Chairman Kweyama and now Mpondo; 4. A communications person who was gotten rid of by Luthuli House for speaking out of turn on the reserve bank and monetary policy; and 5. A Company secretary from NERSA who worked with the suspended CEO of NERSA and has a Public Protector complaint against him; among other dubious characters. So much for anti-corruption being the prime focus of this government.
Meanwhile proven executives with institutional history are being placed on suspension or forced to leave Prasa under the pretext of fighting corruption. For example the Administrator has gone on to fire a recently appointed African Female CFO replacing her with a less qualified male, and subsequently illegally fired the African female Chief Procurement Officer, replacing her with another low calibre male individual – both these highly suspect appointments are now in court. The motive for these illegal dismissals is clearly to remove high functioning professionals, replace them with the most questionable characters and hastily capture and seize the critical finance and procurement functions of Prasa for the benefit of politically connected individuals who are known to be sponsored by some known junior politicians.
The Administrator has also been on an axing spree suspending many senior people on trumped-up allegations – especially in the engineering space – for months – without being able to draw up a single charge to substantiate the disciplinary action against these suspended engineers. All this to seamlessly facilitate the criminal capture of the engineering and technical divisions of PRASA for the benefit of a politically-connected network that knows nothing about running railways. The sole preoccupation is the misappropriation of billions allocated to PRASA for their personal benefit instead of serving the public good.
The impact of this systematic retrenchment is to denude the rail business of all strategic capacity and institutional memory. These shenanigans have created a scenario where Prasa is short of a robust engineering and technical class. A case in point is Prasa is currently incapable of putting together competent bid documents.
All these schemes by the so called anti corruption crusader Administrator are happening whilst the legality of his very appointment is subject of damning litigation in the Cape High Court, in which arguments have already been laid and judgement awaited. The Administrators’s own Senior Counsel, Vincent Maleka, even conceded in court that PRASA Minister Mbalula had no legal authority to burden the rail authority with an Administrator instead of appointing a board. The Senior Counsel further conceded in court that PRASA urgently requires the reinstatement of a board. The Department of Transport recently advertised for appointment of new board but the rumor is this board will only be in office January 2021. It mustn’t escape discerning readers that the term of office of the current Administrator ends in December 2020.
When will President Ramaphosa Administration learn that Bad practice begets Bad practice? Bad appointments only lead to incompetent decisions and nefarious outcomes! The needless appointment of an administrator could only lead to illegal decisions and the savagely dysfunctional outcomes underway at PRASA, ultimately leading to the near complete destruction of a key state asset. Will they ever learn!
There are more frightening looting schemes besides those listed above, currently underway at PRASA by a ruthlessly committed network comprising mainly junior ranks within the organisation and led by the Administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo, which will have serious consequences for the long term survival and modernization of the national rail system and PRASA.
At serious risk is the multi billion rolling stock programme which runs the risk of total collapse if this criminal malfeasance is allowed to continue. Many rail maintenance companies, central to the re-industrialisation of the country and the Black Industrial programme, are collapsing due to the orchestrated mismanagement at PRASA. By the time this Government wakes up and takes PRASA seriously there might not be a passenger supply railway industry to support the rebuilding of PRASA.
Why should we beg this Government for something as simple as a board for PRASA to oversee the rebuilding of this business? The argument advanced by Minister Mbalula for appointing the Administrator is bogus and intellectually unsound. You can’t appoint incompetent boards and expect excellent outcomes. The practice of appointing friends, girl friends, comrades and people without industry experiences must give way. PRASA needs a competent, professional board immediately, comprised of ethical, mature people who have overseen complex multi billion rand enterprises. Not Mbalula’s incompetent stooges and criminal friends assembled to run Prasa now. Future generations will not give architects of Ramaphosa Administration if Prasa,once a key sector in the transportation ecosystem is allowed to collapse. Prasa mustn’t face the same fate as South African Airways. Heavens forbid but then we are living in the era of New Dawn .