File Picture: David Ritchie/ANA Pictures
File Picture: David Ritchie/ANA Pictures
File photo
File photo
JOHANNESBURG - The interim  board of the embattled Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) on Wednesday took flak from legislators after its board and management failed to appear before the transport portfolio committee to answer questions on state capture allegations. 

Instead, it was left to Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi and the department’s director-general to field questions. 

ANC Member of Parliament Leonard Ramatlakane said yesterday the committee needed to have a discussion with the board, because it had to give an account of what was happening at the agency. 

“The minister is not a functionary. It is the board who must answer the questions. Appointment of various service providers currently is a challenge. Who appointed these, were these appointments legal, did they follow legal procedures, and is there money to pay for these?” Ramatlakane asked.

“We need to have further meetings with the board. They must account; they inherited the mess. They need to tell us how they will clean this mess,” Ramatlakane said.  His views were supported by Terence Mpanza who said this was not a good start for the Prasa board and it was disappointing that not a single person from Prasa management was present.

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The board, together with Maswanganyi, was supposed to among others tell Parliament why the rail agency had not been able to finalise its financial statements for the year. They were also expected to be quizzed by legislators on state capture allegations at Prasa, which include the Gupta family’s alleged involvement in an R51 billion tender for trains.
Cabinet last month approved the appointment of an interim board for Prasa. The board is made up of Tintswalo Makhubele, who serves as chairperson, while Natalie Skeepers, John Maluleke and Magdelene Reddy were appointed board members. Cabinet said it expects Maswanganyi to name the full board within the next six months.

In July, former Prasa chairperson Popo Molefe lashed out at Maswanganyi, accusing him of prejudicing the board’s investigation following former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s “Derailed” report. Those fingered were foremost the now former Prasa chief executive Lucky Montana, board members who were conflicted, and senior Prasa officials involved in the awarding of tenders. 

However, Maswanganyi yesterday said the ministry was working closely with the office of the Auditor General and National Treasury in fixing problems highlighted in the public protector’s report. 

“The parastatal has appointed forensic investigators to investigate some of the allegations. Criminal cases were opened and, in some cases, legal opinions were received in order to advise Prasa regarding the legal ramifications of the actions of some of its officials,” Maswanganyi said.  

He added that the department met with the Public Protector last week to brief her office on progress in following the recommendations of the Public Protector’s 2015 Derailed report on mismanagement at the rail agency.

In her explosive Derailed report, Madonsela recommended that Treasury in consultation with the Prasa board; consider commissioning a forensic investigation on all Prasa contracts or tenders valued above R10 million issued between 1 April 2012 and 30 June 2015, among other remedial actions.

Maswanganyi said a host of investigations into multi-million-rand contracts flagged by Madonsela, conducted by National Treasury, the Auditor General and Werksmans Attorneys were still ongoing, two years after the public protector’s report.