PARLIAMENT - Transport Minister Blade Nzimande on Tuesday expressed serious concern about the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa), saying it was so mired in past problems that the new board may not have had a chance to look to the future.
"We need to have a very serious engagement with the board... I am not even sure they have had a proper board meeting looking forward instead of just dealing with problems of the past," Nzimande told Parliament's portfolio committee on transport.
He stressed that the rail agency's inability to spend some R14 billion in its capital fund on new infrastructure was unsatisfactory. It resulted in the department withholding an allocation of R4.9 billion to Prasa in the past financial year, and returning it to National Treasury.
"I am very concerned with this thing of sitting with R14 billion when the president says we must have investment and development."
Transport director-general Collins Letsaolo said it would have been incorrect to transfer the money when the agency had funds for capital expenditure of nearly three times as much sitting on its books untouched.
"Prasa had spent about 26 percent towards the end of the financial year of their capex. They had cash reserves of R14 billion."
He was at pains to stress that this did not affect rail services, but conceded that ultimately a lack of infrastructure development hampered services.
Nzimande added: "Hopefully now that there is new blood, capex will pick up because infrastructure does create jobs."
The departmental team confirmed that they were hoping to convene a special meeting of ministers and members of executive councils (MINMEC) before the end of the month.
Nzimande on Tuesday repeated an earlier remark that Prasa had allowed itself to be treated as an ATM by handing out money carelessly, including on irregular contracts, and in the process failed to focus on its core business of providing decent train transport.
He appointed an interim board for a period of one year in April.
Prasa has seen years of political meddling and suspect dealings, termed by former public protector Thuli Madonsela a chronic failure to comply with its own supply-chain policy.
African News Agency/ANA