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Parliament Lauds Prasa Administrator’s Plans To Fix Broken Rail Agency

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Thebe Mabanga

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) has managed to reduce its budget deficit from R3.1 billion to just below R1 billion but still has R4.6 billion it needs to pay to creditors.

The agency has also suspended 12 senior employees on various allegations and has started a lifestyle audit for 300 of its most senior employees.

This emerged at a briefing given by administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo and Transport minister Fikile Mbalula to the portfolio committee on transport in Parliament.

The virtual briefing was to update the committee on the work done to stabilise Prasa since Mpondo was appointed in February following the dissolution of the Prasa board, or its “firing” as Mbalula called it.

Mpondo has been running the agency with a technical advisory team and an exco comprised of a range of secondments from various parts of government and agencies including the Council for Scientific and Industrial research (CSIR).

He noted that PRSSA has suffered from compromised governance in recent years.

Mpondo says he is focusing is restructuring the PRASA’s operational model both in its passenger train service Metrorail and the inter-provincial bus service Autopax.

He says over the past ten years both divisions had suffered declining revenue fare while faced with rising costs.

At a media briefing last week, Mpondo said the agency has lost R200 million in revenue fare over the lockdown.

On the passenger trains side, woes have been exacerbated by theft and vandalism of its copper cables, train locomotives and signalling system. Prasa is preparing to resume operation at Level 3 of the National lockdown under strict health conditions of decontaminating stations and train coaches after every trip and making masks compulsory for passengers, who can be crammed at between 200 and 250 into a coach, a figure some might say is actually low.

Mpondo says Prasa had a deficit of R 3.1 billion when he took office. The agency then used interest of interest on its capital expenditure account of R 1.1 billion to reduce the deficit to R2.8 billion.

This was reduced through further savings to R 900 million and is likely to be further reduced when Prasa meets the transport department Director General and the Minster on Wednesday.

Mpondo told the committee that PRASA owes creditors R 4.6 billion.

This includes money owed to Transnet for engineering services offered, municipalities who host their stations as well as service providers. PRASA is in dispute with security companies who demand payment even in instances where they have failed to protect its property.

To meet these short term obligations, Prasa has requested permission form National Treasury to convert some of its capital expenditure budget to operational expenditure. Treasury is yet to approve the request.

Prasa has suspended 12 senior officials on varying allegations of corruption.

Mpondo says the suspension are to ensure that they do not interfere with critical investigations.

Prasa has also initiated lifestyle audits on 300 of its senior employees, starting with him and his technical advisory team, executives, and senior managers. 186 names have been submitted to the South African State Security Agency (SASSA) for vetting and lifestyle audits.

Mpondo said PRASA is committed to resuming spending on infrastructure to help revive the rail manufacturing industry. Spending includes R 3 billion to be spent on fixing the Cape Ton and Mabopane train lines. There is also spending on refurbishment of depots and stations, fencing to protect copper wire infrastructure, and upgrading signalling in order to receive and operate the newly minted “blue trains” manufactured by Gibela in Nigel, Ekurhuleni. Prasa has taken delivery of eight of these trains for its operations.

Mpondo says he is looking to fill five executive posts by June including the CEO of Prasa Technical, Chief Information Officer and company secretary to have a full complement exco. Mpondo’s tenure is for twelve months.

MPs lauded work done by the administrator but noted that they will need to see action on commitments made including possible disciplinary action, or criminal prosecution of required, of suspended officials. Mbalula described the work being done at PRASA as “fixing a broken palace”.

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