December 03, 2020

Unite Behind submission that we nearly didn’t hear

Investigations by the Unite Behind coalition has exposed what tens of thousands of commuters have suspected for a long time. It claims the cause of the chaos that has left the country’s railways in shambles has its roots in Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa's (Prasa's) corruption and thievery.

A decision by Prasa to reopen Cape Town’s Central Line which serves tens of thousands of Cape Flats commuters has been welcomed, even though Parliament’s Transport Committee questions the delays.

While a solution is in sight, at least for some rail commuters, the question remains: However did the state’s transport agency reach this point? And, like so many crises that have almost brought our economy to a standstill, does the answer lies in State Capture?

Yes, says Unite Behind. It alleges this is confirmed in leaked forensic investigations by Treasury of about 200 contracts worth approximately R15 billion.

"Passengers are consistently missing work and losing their pay and leave and often their jobs as well.

At Parliament last week in a Transport Committee hearing the #UniteBehind Metrorail Monitoring Project released its report that revealed that during 2016/7 close to 500 passengers died and more than 2,000 were injured, while “almost all’ passengers routinely suffer physical and psychological harm.

“Beyond this terrible cost of lives”, such accidents and crime cost the railway operators almost a billion rand (R961 million),” the report noted.

The Unite Behind submission, first completed in November 2017 and updated in February 2018, estimated that 43% of former rail passengers have stopped using Metrorail in the Western Cape over the past four years. On average over 73% of trains are late and around 7% of all trains are cancelled.

Worst hit has been Cape Town’s beleaguered Central Line that serves a vast swathe of the Cape Flats, including Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha, Langa, Bonteheuwel and Gugulethu. The Central Line was closed for weeks following the killing of a security guard while on duty.

Tens of thousands of commuters who had relied on this line are waiting for Prasa to make good on its promise to reopen the line, although Metrorail had threatened it would remain closed indefinitely due to “extreme vandalism”.

Unite Behind’s report was nearly shelved when the first attempt at a hearing had to be called off due to the non-appearance of the Prasa board. Proceedings resumed a week later, and Prasa had to face an angry Committee which heard firsthand accounts by desperate commuters.

The focus of the portfolio committee meeting was on the commuter challenges, especially issues of safety, with inputs from Prasa, Metrorail and UniteBehind.

Unite Behind’s report states, “The crisis means that passengers are consistently missing work and losing their pay and leave. Such passengers often lose their jobs as well.

“Consequently, commuters are desperate to get onto trains and this is regularly responsible for deaths and injuries. It leads people to run across the tracks, hang out of doors and windows, travel between carriages, or ride on the roofs of overcrowded and shortened trains.

“If passengers do make it to work on time, they will probably get home late, leaving them with less time for their families, let alone for themselves. Such a lifestyle is prone to anxiety, stress and depression. Individual households can suffer catastrophic consequences and the local economy suffers greatly, while corrupt actors at Prasa, the companies that captured them, and our public representatives revel in luxury, with no fear of prosecution or consequences.”

The Unite Behind submission claims a direct line between the daily suffering of citizens and state capture.

“Corruption and state capture compromises the provision of social goods and basic public services, directly devastating the lives of people, especially the working-class and poor. This includes unnecessary increases in the costs of electricity, water, and transportation. In the case of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), state capture and corruption directly disrupt and harm the lives and livelihoods of people every day.”

The troubles go back years, with the earliest complaints, by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Sarawu), laid in 2012. These implicated Prasa General Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) Lucky Montana and other functionaries at Prasa who were accused of maladministration, procurement irregularities, conflicts of interest, nepotism and human resources mismanagement, including victimisation of whistleblowers.

Former Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela then released “Derailed: : A report on an investigation into allegations of maladministration, financial mismanagement, tender irregularities and appointment irregularities against the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA)”. The Public Protector found evidence of systemic maladministration at nearly all levels of Prasa’s financial management, tendering and appointment processes.

She said at the time that she was finding it very difficult to access information to follow up her findings “as information had to be clawed out of Prasa management”.

Her response was to instruct the Chairperson of the Prasa board to commission the National Treasury to conduct a forensic investigation into all Prasa contracts above R10 million since 2012 and “address any findings regarding systemic administrative deficiencies allowing ongoing maladministration and related improprieties in its procurement system.”

In February 2016, the National Treasury, in compliance with the Public Protector’s directions, commissioned forensic investigations into 216 contracts awarded by Prasa between 2012 and 2015. Of these, only 13 were found to have been above-board.

National Treasury contracted 13 forensic and legal firms to carry out the investigations: Bowmans, Delloite, ENS, Fundudzi, Gobodo, JGL, KPMG, Nexus, PPM, Strategic Investigations and Seminars, PWC, Sekela Xabiso and TGR. The reports they delivered were constrained by non-availability of documentation and the investigators inability to make site visits. However, they produced approximately 1,500 pages of documents that have been lodged with the community news site, GroundUp, to assist with investigation and dissemination.

During most of the period covered by the Treasury investigations, Prasa was led by the then Board Chairperson, Sfiso Buthelezi, who is now Deputy Minister of Finance, and MrLucky Montana as GCEO.

When it became clear that PRASA’s main subsidiary, Metrorail, was in financial difficulties a new Board was appointed in August 2014 under the leadership of Popo Molefe.

The Prasa Board under Molefe took the two biggest cases, involving Siyangena Technologies and Swifambo Rail Agency, to court to declare contracts worth about R7 billion unlawful. In the case of Siyangena, the court declined to hear the matter because it was out of time. Prasa has appealed.

In the case of Swifambo, it is public knowledge that the tender process was found to be rigged to provide a European company, Vosloh Espana, with a contract to provide Prasa with locomotives. Swifambo has appealed this outcome.

The Prasa board under Molefe laid about 40 more charges with the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigation (DPCI or Hawks) and the National Prosecution Authority more than two years ago.

During his short tenure as Prasa board chairperson Molefe faced an attempt by the Transport Minister Dipuo Peters to shut down the Board in March 2017. This failed in terms of an order issued by the High Court. However the Board was disbanded a few months later.

By then Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi had replaced Peters in a Zuma Cabinet reshuffle. At the time Molefe accused Minister Maswanganyi of prejudicing the Board’s investigation requested by Madonsela in her “Derailed” report.

“The departing board does not believe that the Minister has Prasa's best interests, and the interests of the public, at heart,” Molefe said publicly at the time and added the outgoing board “successfully completed its tenure, during which significant strides were made, in accordance with the recommendations of the erstwhile Public Protector in her report entitled Derailed, to address long-standing corruption and governance issues at Prasa”.

This, however, was not the last word on Molefe’s efforts. A Transport Portfolio Committee hearing in November 2017 to discuss corruption at Prasa had Transport Minister Maswanganyi inquiring about the investigators hired by former Board chairperson Molefe.

Unite Behind claims this was an attempt “to bury the investigation”, and said whistleblowers came forward to provide Unite Behind with documentation that “expose a staggering level of corruption and non-compliance with the constitutional and legal obligations of the rail transport agency”.

Moira Levy

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Saturday, 17 February 2018 19:06

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Notes from the House is an independent online publication that tracks and monitors Parliament’s role in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to improve the lives of South African citizens. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

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