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Blade Nzimande says getting trains working is “urgent task” but provides no time frame

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Chair of Prasa board, Tintswalo Makhubele, resigns following conflict of interest

Minister for Transport Blade Nzimande Archive photo: Ashleigh Furlong
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Minister of Transport Dr Blade Nzimande says stabilising Metrorail is a priority for the National Department of Transport (DOT). GroundUp wrote to the Ministry to ask about what it is doing to help improve the situation of Metrorail in Cape Town.

“Our immediate and urgent task is to stabilise and provide a predictable Metrorail service within current capacity,” said Ministry spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi.

“The Minister has instructed Prasa [Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa] to work on the recovery plan to add additional train sets in the Cape Town Metrorail network,” he said.

When asked about when interventions were to be implemented, the Ministry did not provide any timelines.

Cape Town’s collapsing Metrorail service

In October 2017, the City announced its intention to take over management of Metrorail from Prasa. Councillor Brett Herron, Cape Town’s Mayco Member for Transport and Urban Development, said: “The City is doing all we can to address the challenges the urban rail system is facing, given that our mandate in this respect is limited to a supporting role at this stage.”

On 9 February, Herron announced that a short-term solution of a “dedicated enforcement unit to focus on safety and security of Metrorail commuters” was agreed upon at a rail summit between the City, Prasa and the Western Cape Government. He said then that the agreement would be “finalised and signed within the next few weeks”.

This finalisation has not yet been done and Herron responded to GroundUp on 23 March that “the City will make a public announcement as soon as this has happened”.

Mnisi said that there are “no discussions with the City of Cape Town”, but that the department is “in continuous engagement with the MEC for Transport in the Western Cape to ensure that we collectively find an amicable solution towards the challenges experienced by commuters in the Western Cape rail corridor”.

“The Department is in the process of finalising the National Rail Policy White paper,” said Mnisi. “The draft white paper outlines the time frames in which local authorities will get involved in commuter rail including dealing with capacity constraints at municipal level.”

Maladministration at Prasa

“Minister Nzimande is committed to deal decisively with fraud and corruption at Prasa, and he will do everything in his power to root out these acts of dishonesty and criminality wherever they emerge in all the Transport Entities and SOE [State Owned Enterprises],” said Mnisi.

Mnisi said Nzimande is aware of the decision to run investigations into the affairs at Prasa, following the 2014/15 Auditor-General report findings of irregular expenditure as well as the former Public Protector’s “Derailed” report into allegations of maladministration.

According to Mnisi, Minister Nzimande is yet to receive a detailed report on the remedial actions recommended by the Auditor-General and former Public Protector.

Concerns with the Prasa interim board

Activist group UniteBehind has been campaigning against the composition of the Prasa interim board.

In its legal opinion on the matter, law firm ENSAfrica wrote in February that because there was no representative from National Treasury on the interim board, there is a “defect in the composition of the board (from 19 October 2017 to 4 February 2018)”.

ENS stated this is “likely” to be considered unlawful and that it could “affect the validity of decisions taken by the interim board during the period of its tenure”.

The Ministry said it is aware of the allegations by UniteBehind but that “the Prasa Board is not unlawfully constituted because it was established on the approval of the Cabinet Committee Resolution and announced by Cabinet”.

The chairperson of the interim board, Tintswalo Annah Nana Makhubele, came under the scrutiny of UniteBehind for what it claimed was her unlawful appointment as board chair while also being appointed as a judge to the Gauteng Division of the High Court.

Prasa spokesperson Nana Zenani confirmed to GroundUp that Makhubele resigned as chairperson on 23 March 2018, and that the resignation was effective as of 16 March.

According to a statement on the resignation, “Advocate Makhubele had deferred her appointment [as a Judge] to 1 April 2018, to wind up her practice”.

Editorial: Metrorail – political leadership needed

Under Jacob Zuma’s presidency, Eskom and Prasa, two of the country’s most important state-owned enterprises, were almost destroyed. President Cyril Ramaphosa explicitly mentioned Eskom in the state of the nation address, but not Prasa. Under pressure from business and ratings agencies he has taken direct action to fix Eskom. If Eskom fails an economic collapse is possible.

The failure of Prasa is also a major crisis. GroundUp has run numerous reports on the travails of commuters trying to get to work, and losing their jobs because of the impossibility of arriving on time. Schoolchildren who travel to places like Mowbray, Sea Point and the city centre frequently miss classes. Train travellers ride in fear of their lives. Trains are unsafe, dirty, late, and stop in the middle of nowhere for ages without explanation. The Central Line, arguably the most important Metrorail line in Cape Town, has been suspended more often than it has been operational over the past few months.

The failure of Metrorail does not only affect working-class people. Cape Town’s roads are horribly congested. Businesses cannot operate properly if staff are continuously late. School teachers cannot tell if learners are telling the truth when they blame the trains for being late. A failed transport system hinders our economy.

The PRASALeaks showed the grand-scale corruption that took place at Prasa when Lucky Montana was the CEO. There is no reason to believe things have improved since then. There are serious questions about the appointment of a judge as chair of the new board (news of her resignation today is a small relief), a serious conflict of interests. The board has approved a questionable R59-million payment to a dodgy company. It has disbanded its legal panel, one of the few reasonably functioning aspects of Prasa, and handed the procurement of legal services to the Supply Chain Management department which is at the centre of the PRASALeaks allegations.

There is little sign that Ramaphosa or the recently appointed Minister of Transport Blade Nzimande are paying due attention to Prasa. Our interview with Minister Nzimande’s ministry that we publish below is mostly disappointing. There is no evidence of a turnaround plan, no dates, no timelines, very little that is concrete, no attempt to meet with the City of Cape Town to consider proposals to take over Metrorail, and no real cognisance of the scale of the problem. The answers are perfunctory.

The ministry points out that “government remains concerned about the acts of vandalism and theft of the signalling equipments in the major rail corridors of our country”. But vandalism and theft are a symptom of Metrorail’s failed security system.

As head of the SACP Nzimande ostensibly speaks for the working class; now is his opportunity to prove it. This year, he needs to get the trains running safely and on time.

Interview with Ministry of Transport

GroundUp: Metrorail across the country, but especially in Cape Town, has serious challenges. For example in Cape Town the Central line is frequently suspended for days or even weeks, and nearly every line has long delays daily. What steps is the Ministry taking to get PRASA, and consequently Metrorail, running efficiently again so as to provide working class commuters with a good service?

Ministry: The Minister is currently receiving briefings by the Department of Transport Executive Management Committee on all the modes of Transport throughout the country. This includes, rail related services. Subsequently, the Minister has met the Interim Chairperson of the PRASA Board to be briefed on the current developments within PRASA and how the Board which is reporting to the Minister is dealing with the challenges. However, the Minister would like to state upfront that as a shareholder, he has the responsibility to ensure that PRASA delivers on its core mandate and that such delivery is underpinned by prudent and good governance principles.

The Minister will continuously monitor progress in the implementation of the remedial actions recommended by the Auditor-General and ensure that necessary controls and systems are put in place to promote good governance. Equally important, the Minister will ensure that the Public Protectors report is implemented and necessary action is taken against anyone implicated in wrongdoing.

Furthermore, the Minister has instructed PRASA to work on the recovery plan to add additional train sets in the Cape Town Metrorail network.

This will be done to ensure that rail commuters in our country who heavily rely on public transport deserve nothing but the best.

GroundUp: In November 2017, dozens of forensic reports commissioned by Treasury and conducted by the country’s most well known auditors were published in the media (known as PRASALeaks). They collectively paint a picture of massive corruption and mismanagement at PRASA. Is the Ministry aware of these reports and taking steps to get Treasury to publish them officially? Will the reports recommendations be acted upon?

Minister Nzimande is aware of the decision by the former Minister of Transport, the then Board of PRASA and the Chief Procurement Officer of the National Treasury to adopt a consolidated approach where PRASA, Office of the Auditor-General and the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer will run concurrent but independent investigations into the affairs of PRASA. This follows the 2014/15 report by the Auditor-General, which highlighted serious governance breaches, particularly in the supply chain management area, with findings of irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure. The second was the report by the Public Protector into allegations of maladministration at PRASA, titled “Derailed”. These two reports necessitated serious Board and Management focus in implementing the remedial actions recommended by the Auditor-General and Public Protector. Minister Nzimande is yet to receive a detailed report in this regard.

Minister Nzimande is committed to deal decisively with fraud and corruption at PRASA, and he will do everything in his power to root out these acts of dishonesty and criminality wherever they emerge in all the Transport Entities and SOE. In dealing with this matter, it is prudent PRASA implements a clear scope of work and program and that financial and fiscal prudence is exercised at all times.

GroundUp: Transport activists (such as UniteBehind) have been arguing that the current PRASA board is irregularly constituted, that a sitting judge is irregularly sitting as chair of the board, and that the board unlawfully shut down PRASA’s legal panel. Is the Ministry aware of these allegations? Are they being investigated?

Ministry: Yes, the Minister is aware of these allegations by UniteBehind. However, the PRASA Board is not unlawfully constituted because it was established on the approval of the Cabinet Committee Resolution and announced by Cabinet. However the Minister is currently looking into the matter of the current PRASA Board.

GroundUp: What is the position of the Ministry on some or all local authorities taking over some or all of the functioning of Metrorail? For example, the City of Cape Town has expressed interest in taking over the operation of Metrorail. Is this something the Ministry is willing to consider? Under what circumstances and conditions? Is the ministry in discussions with the City of Cape Town or any other local authorities on this?

Ministry: The Department is in the process of finalising the National Rail Policy White paper. The Policy position on devolution is that the Department will develop a Devolution Strategy in line with the Integrated Urban Development Framework. The draft white paper outlines the timeframes in which local authorities will get involved in commuter rail including dealing with capacity constrains at municipal level.

Critical as well is for PRASA to ensure that we provide our demand driven services according to customer travel needs, and ensuring predictability and reliable information dissemination”.

There are no discussions with the City of Cape Town, however, the MEC of Transport in the Western Cape represents the province on Transport related matters through the MINMEC forum.

GroundUp: Is the ministry able to give commuters of Cape Town an assurance, including a timeframe, that Metrorail will improve soon?

Ministry: The National Department of Transport is in continuous engagement with the MEC for Transport in the Western Cape to ensure that we collectively find an amicable solution towards the challenges experienced by commuters in the Western Cape rail corridor. However, government remains concerned about the acts of vandalism and theft of the signalling equipments in the major rail corridors of our country.

“Our immediate and urgent task is to stabilize and provide a predictable Metrorail service within current capacity, measured by increased ridership, customer satisfaction and efficiency, affirms Minister Nzimande.

Minister Nzimande calls upon South Africans to protect and safeguard the rail investment in modernising rail services in South Africa to make it integrated, smart, cost effective and efficient transport in supporting a thriving economy that promotes sustainable economic growth, supports a healthier life style, provides safe and accessible mobility options, and socially includes all communities and preserves the environment.

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TOPICS:  Metrorail Transport