Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)
Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Prasa needs billions to fix infrastructure

By Vernon Mchunu Time of article published Mar 31, 2021

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DURBAN - THE Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), in the red as a result of financial malfeasance that led to R21 billion in irregular expenditure, is expected to fork out billions of rand to fix vandalised infrastructure.

This was revealed by the agency yesterday during the launch of the KwaZulu-Natal leg of a R181bn multi-stakeholder programme aimed at protecting future railway infrastructure.

Prasa board chairperson Leonard Ramatlakane said the agency was still reeling from the “massive vandalism and theft” of copper cables and rail tracks across the country, including eThekwini.

EThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said the rampant thievery had all the hallmarks of the work of organised criminal syndicates.

Prasa spokesperson Bane Ndlovu said that for the financial year which kicks in today, Prasa had budgeted R181 million for the roll-out of the programme.

Board member and Audit Risk committee chairperson Thinavhuyo Ndidinwangani Mpye said the Department of Transport had agreed to provide the required financial lifeline, adding that repair work, whose price tag she put at “billions of rand” was yet to begin.

Asked about the financial state of the organisation, Mpye said Prasa was caught between a rock and a hard place. “We are having to rebuild the infrastructure for the sake of the stability of the economy, since rail transport is the bedrock of a stable economy. On the other hand, we are operating in a troubled financial environment.

“We inherited R21bn irregular expenditure along with an irregular financial environment,” Mpye said, citing a culmination of the challenges that led to the dissolution of the previous board last December by Minister Fikile Mbalula.

After the board was removed, an administrator who was appointed to turn around the fortunes of the stateowned entity had also been removed owing to alleged financial irregularities. “We are a permanent board now with a three-year term of office, and we are constantly liaising with National Treasury to ensure that we address financial irregularities that have been associated with the organisation since 2018/2019 and again in the 2019/2020 financial year.”

Regarding the theft and vandalism, Kaunda warned Prasa to look inside the organisation for clues as to who the culprits were.

“Maybe Prasa should also look inside, because it cannot be possible that the copper thieves are working alone. (Thieves) will have information from inside (the agency) as to where infrastructure is located and how to access it,” Kaunda said.

Acting provincial police commissioner Major-General Thulani Gonya said police were serious about rooting out cable theft.

“Now we will have eyes and ears everywhere. We are constantly making impromptu visits to chop shops to check if products used may have been obtained through illicit means,” he said.

While Gauteng province was the worst hit, eThekwini and the South Coast had also received its fair share of damage and theft of infrastructure, said Dumi Dube, the KZN regional manager for Prasa.

“We are having problems with homeless people, in some cases building informal shelters right on the verge of our railway infrastructure. This creates instability of the trackbed, which then requires us to halt the movement of trains, disrupting the entire railway transport system,” Dube said.

Ramatlakane said the entity had embarked on the “People’s Responsibility to Protect” pilot programme in a desperate bid to curtail the problem.

“As a government, we cannot walk this arduous journey of trying to protect public infrastructure alone. The people who are involved in this criminality live among us. Hence community participation in this programme is of paramount importance,” Ramatlakane said.

Kaunda said for the programme, 200 volunteers, who would be paid an undisclosed stipend, had been drawn from the local townships of KwaMashu and uMlazi, which he described as hot spot areas for the problem.

A group of 20 of them would be deployed in each of the 102 train stations targeted, in a campaign which he said would also rope in members of the uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association.

THE MERCURY

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