New transport DG tasked with putting PRASA back on track

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says implementing the interventions announced during the department’s budget vote to turn PRASA around are among several tasks that await newly appointed Director General Alec Moemi. 

This includes expediting the setting up of a Steering Committee and a Ministerial War Room that has been set up to ensure that PRASA [Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa] us put back on track trains safe and reliable. 

Mbalula said this when he briefed journalists on the appointment of the department’s new accounting officer at the Imbizo Media Centre in Cape Town on Wednesday. 

Mbalula recently went on an early morning train ride in Cape Town to experience the struggles of commuters first hand. 

“An immediate priority is the urgent implementation of interventions aimed at addressing critical challenges facing PRASA.   

“A decisive intervention to turn around PRASA and improve its operational performance while rebuilding its engineering capacity to drive the modernisation programme is in place. This intervention is driven through a Steering Committee and Ministerial War Room which will play an oversight and enabling role over the turnaround strategy,” he said. 

Moemi, who has worked with Mbalula before in a similar role at the Department of Sports and Recreation, starts in his new role next month. 

Mbalula said the Steering Committee and Ministerial War Room will also guide interventions to realise three key objectives. 

This includes a focus on rolling stock availability and reliability, infrastructure availability and reliability and train performance. 

“The second objective is Safety Management, which entails putting in place effective measures to protect critical infrastructure and passengers on board our trains, alongside achieving full compliance with the Railway Safety Regulator permit conditions and directives. 

“The third objective is accelerated implementation of the modernisation programme. This entails urgently creating capacity for PRASA to manage capital projects and spend its capital budget to achieve effective sequencing of critical infrastructure that will enable the deployment of the new trains in targeted corridors,” the Minister said. 

Commuter safety under the spotlight 

The department is adopting a strong stance against behaviour that places the lives of innocent commuters at risk. 

“This extends to the conduct of those who operate services and those who may be taking part in protest or labour action. 

“In this regard, the DG is tasked with developing an all-encompassing national policy on safety and security in public transport. This policy must be produced as a matter of great urgency. 

“This exercise must lead to direct in-sourcing of at least 80% of security personnel by PRASA. These security officers must receive their basic training from SAPS [South African Police Service], and I have discussed this with Minister Cele,” Mbalula said. 

Swifambo Rail to be put under the hammer 

In 2014, PRASA procured locomotives to improve performance of the long-distance passenger rail service, Shosholoza Meyl. Only 13 of these locomotives were delivered to PRASA in 2015. 

The main contractor, Swifambo Rail Leasing, did not supply the full complement of trains as required under the contract, having only delivered 13 of the 70. 

Following PRASA Board intervention, the matter was brought to court, with a finding of corruption and fronting, which led to the liquidation of Swifambo. 

Mbalula said the delivered locomotives now constitute part of Swifambo assets that will go under the hammer of the auctioneer in September 2019.   

“This marks the end of a painful episode for PRASA, where a significant investment aimed at improving the Shosholoza Meyl service was corrupted by unscrupulous people, whose interest was to line their own pockets. 

“The consequences will be dire for those who were responsible for this criminality that resulted in a loss of billions to the fiscus. 

“Corruption and criminality will not go unpunished. In this regard, I expect the board of PRASA to urgently litigate to recover public funds from those they were paid to,” he said. –