Scopa wants former Prasa board members to be declared delinquent

05 February 2020 - 20:18 By Andisiwe Makinana
Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa on Wednesday welcomed the transport minister's decision to place Prasa under administration.
Scopa chair Mkhuleko Hlengwa on Wednesday welcomed the transport minister's decision to place Prasa under administration.
Image: Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath

Parliament's public accounts watchdog Scopa wants the former directors of the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) declared delinquent so that they are never appointed to any other state entity board.

The committee hopes to institute a court action on behalf of parliament that will declare members of separate Prasa boards delinquent directors due to governance and systems failures at the agency.

Besides getting a disclaimer audit opinion from the auditor-general, Prasa was also placed under administration by transport minister Fikile Mbalula in December.

“Parliament must ensure that being dismissed from a board should not be your redemption to continue and go somewhere else,” said Scopa chairperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa on Wednesday at a meeting held in parliament.

Hlengwa welcomed Mbalula's decision to remove the interim board and place the agency under administration. “We need to discuss further actions that will be taken against the former board,” he said in his opening remarks.

“That they were dismissed or dissolved is not sufficient. We will engage with the parliamentary legal services on the best possible way to hold them accountable, including having them declared delinquent directors.

“Accountability cannot end with a dismissal. It needs to have far-reaching consequences to remind you that you can't be in an entity and it collapses in your hands."

He said it was time that parliament entrenched its own authority in this regard, adding that the legislature has a moral obligation as public representatives to safeguard the people's interests.

Prasa administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo and Mbalula were at the meeting to discuss plans to turn around the agency's fortunes.

Mbalula repeatedly described Prasa as “a broken” organisation. He explained that the decision to put Prasa under administration had not been easy.

“We could have taken an easy path, to say let's go for another board, but this place is broken,” he said.

He described the management and board as having been “non-functioning”, saying that while the board was managing billions of rands of public money and was expected to be running a rail system, it could not even produce minutes of its meetings.

“You needed a tool at your disposal that would bring a semblance of order. It's not that when the administrator leaves, everything will be honky dory - but the way it is ... it's rotten to the core, rotten with no system,” he said.

Expanding on the extent of the rot, Mpondo told MPs that when he moved in, he could not find documents on the Prasa system. Among the missing files were documents that would have made it possible to pursue outstanding disciplinary cases.

“We are faced with a reality that Prasa is a broken business and this has happened over time. We have experienced a systematic erosion of value during this period,” said Mpondo, who has been at work since being appointed on December 9.

“This is at odds with our stated intention, which is to provide value to commuters, who do not have a choice. As Prasa we are failing them.”

Mbalula has put Mpondo on a tight leash, warning that he will not tolerate ineptitude. The minister said timeframes at Prasa would be implemented with the same efficiency that the country implemented infrastructure for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

“It will have its own turbulence, as we inherit a broken palace where monies of the state have been spent on a bottomless pit over the years,” he said.

MPs were not convinced, however. They felt the World Cup analogy was outdated, considering that China recently built a 1,000-bed hospital in eight days.

DA MP Alf Lees said the crisis at Prasa was more aligned with the coronavirus than with the World Cup, as people's lives were disrupted to a point of a real crisis.

Head of legal services Martha Ngoye dropped another bombshell when she revealed that Prasa had no risk management system under the dismissed boards.

“It's important to state outright that the culture of risk [management] within Prasa is just non-existent. Risk management is a problem and this issue has been raised for as long as I have occupied this position,” she told shocked MPs.

Ngoye said when Prasa officials from legal services did corporate planning, they would insist on having risk assessment done, but they were overruled by the two previous boards. This had been a regular occurrence, where staff found itself hamstrung by boards that ignored advice.

She cited as an example how legal services had advised the interim Prasa board not to cancel security contracts without having contingency plans in place - but the board ignored the advice and went ahead and briefed lawyers, to the exclusion of the legal department.

On hearing this, even ANC MPs who had been quiet on the call to punish former board members voiced their support for the court action to declare them delinquent directors.

“It seems like the previous board had no clue what they were doing. Hearing what actually happened is scary. I want to fully support and agree that we must get a report to parliament. We must get them declared delinquent directors,” said ANC MP Mervyn Dirks.

“You can't do the things they were doing. It's highly irregular, irresponsible and criminal what they had done."