Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Scopa raps Prasa over the knuckles for R28.6bn irregular expenditure

By Mayibongwe Maqhina Time of article published Mar 3, 2021

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CAPE Town – The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) came under fire on Tuesday for its lack of urgency in taking disciplinary action against officials responsible for irregular expenditure of R28.6bn.

This emerged when Prasa was grilled about the action it had taken over the investigations conducted by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the Hawks, when it appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).

Last year, the SIU informed Scopa it had completed 227 reports to the value of R33.1bn, had referred 37 cases to the Hawks, and that 23 were still outstanding.

Briefing the committee, board chairperson Leonard Ramatlakane said the SIU contract ended on February 28 but it needed 15 more days to finalise the report to consolidate all issues.

Ramatlakane said the SIU was to make an erratum in its report in relation to Prasa recovering R26m in connection with the locomotives.

DA MP Alf Lees said he was gobsmacked by the lack of urgency displayed by the board.

“The reason for the lack of urgency is clearly that Prasa operates and continues to exist despite its bad performance. It is really disconcerting that taxpayers are asked to continue to bail out these SOEs and Prasa,” Lees said.

Ramatlakane said their understanding was that they would receive the report later this month.

“As soon as we get the report, we will start moving ahead on those that have been confirmed,” he said.

However, Lees was not impressed, saying this illustrated the board’s lack of urgency.

“Why wait for the SIU report that is complete? Why not ask for the report and get on with the job. Why the waiting?” he asked.

Ramatlakane stood his ground, saying the SIU had to “deliver to us, and then we start to act”.

Prasa was also asked about the identification and action taken against officials responsible for incurring the R1.3bn in irregular expenditure recorded in 2019-20, among other things.

Board member Ndidi Mpye said Prasa had a history of irregular expenditure that had not been condoned by the National Treasury.

“We have ordered that we should start the process of condonation,” Mpye said.

About 116 condonation applications had been brought to the audit risk committee that still needed to be evaluated.

Another board member, Smanga Sethene, said the board had resolved, through the National Treasury, to appoint legal firms to carry out the investigations on behalf of Prasa.

“One of the briefs will be for those firms to ensure that consequence management is carried out.

“All people who are fingered will be processed through that, and I believe the Treasury is in the process of ensuring those firms are authorised,” Sethene said.

However, ANC MP Bheki Hadebe was not impressed with the request made to the National Treasury when there was no determination of the losses incurred or identification of those responsible.

Hadebe said he was not getting any sense that the irregular expenditure was being addressed.

“These issues date back to 2017-18,” he said.

Sethene insisted those implicated in the audit report be identified and brought to book.

“That is the commitment we are making to Scopa, that any member of management or staff who is found to have contravened provisions of the Public Finance Management Act will face disciplinary action,” he said.

Ramatlakane said that in their engagement with the SIU they had been cautioned against rushing to deal with consequence management without the SIU having first finalised the report.

“They advised us not to rush into action before they present their report on March 15,” he said.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said Scopa was correct that Prasa had to move with speed.

“We have to stamp our authority to show that things are changing for the better,” Mbalula said.

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