Prasa spent millions on automated gates that don’t work

After the gruelling ordeal of commuting to Cape Town on dangerously overcrowded Metrorail carriages because of a severe shortage of train sets, passengers are then forced to endure another bottleneck as they squeeze through only two or three manned access gates to Cape Town station, GroundUp reports.

This is despite 54 high-tech automated access gates having been installed eight years ago. The gates have never been integrated in the automated fare collection system for which they were designed. Only a few of them can open at any time, as they have to be manned by staff to check the tickets. Access gates also sometimes have warning tape across them to show they are broken.

While cancelled and late Metrorail trains and chronic overcrowding is a daily reminder of mismanagement and malfeasance at the state-owned Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), the non-functioning high-tech gates are yet another reminder of the lack of service.

Metrorail Western Cape spokesperson Riana Scott said the Cape Town station "speedgates" were mechanically operated "as and when required".

"The gates will continue to be operated mechanically until fully integrated into the automated fare collection system," said Scott.

READ: Montana wants his name removed from Prasa "tall trains" judgment

While the hundreds of irregular contracts and violations of supply chain management processes and regulations governing public finances at Prasa have been reported on by GroundUp, the peculiarity of the non-functioning access gates appears to link to a controversial tender awarded to Siyangena Technologies in 2009.

The Siyangena tender is dealt with in the Public Protector’s "Derailed" report of 2015. The Public Protector, who at the time was Thuli Madonsela, notes that in 2009 Prasa advertised a tender for the installation of high-speed access gates at Doornfontein and Nasrec stations.

Siyangena put in a bid of R1.1bn and got the job. This was despite its bid competitor, Protea Coin, having come in at just under R700m. According to the Public Protector, Siyangena’s contract was then improperly extended to seven other stations, including Cape Town, where their high-speed access gates still do not work.

Criminal cases against Montana

As Prasa has not responded to questions, it is not known whether the problems with the gates are due to Prasa or Siyangena. The contract extension for the installation of high-speed access gates at seven stations resulted in Siyangena raking in an extra R800m above the R1.1bn for the original tender. Besides Cape Town, the other stations identified for high-speed access gates were Rhodesfield, Windermere, Langa, Bridge City, Moses Mabhida, and Orlando.

According to the Public Protector, then group CEO Lucky Montana’s justification was that the high-speed gates were needed ahead of the 2010 World Cup, but the closed tender process - used due to the supposed urgency of the work - which secured Siyangena the extra R800m, appeared to only take place in November 2010. This was four months after the final World Cup match had been played.

Two criminal cases related to the Siyangena tender were lodged against Montana by Prasa. The first was opened in July 2015 and a second in September 2015. These cases are still pebeing investigated by the Hawks. Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said no details on the cases could be provided until investigations were finalised or a decision was taken by the National Prosecuting Authority.

READ: Appeal Court strikes down infamous locomotive contract

Siyangena, in response to questions, sent the following reply via one Sheila dos Santos:

"Instead of spending pages on end to regurgitate complex but necessary facts, I will rather invite you to a reading of the court papers (under case number 11314/2018 and 14332/2018) exchanged between Prasa and Siyangena in a matter to be heard by a full bench of the High Court in March 2019. I say this because a firm understanding of the facts (the factual and legal underlying principles) is of utmost importance before you will be in a position to (responsibly) inform the tax payer accurately.

"The papers in the matter deal in detail with the questions you raise in your email and explain crucial background necessary for context and accurate reporting.

"In addition to the aforesaid invitation (to have access to the papers) we will be available to answer any questions you might still (after having had access to the papers) have regarding the dispute with Prasa.

'Deceitful and dishonest conduct'

"Please be mindful of the fact that our case against Prasa is pending and as presently advised that we are not to engage in a media spat with or towards any of the parties involved (or regarding the merits for that matter). As the court papers are in the public domain, we can confidently refer you to them and we repeat the invitation to clarify any issue not properly canvassed in the voluminous set of papers.

"We are advised to record that our rights and those of Siyangena remain reserved and we beg you to ensure informed and accurate reporting on this matter which has caused our business tremendous injustice and prejudice as a result of the deceitful and dishonest conduct by those we mention in our papers."

When asked if the papers could be sent to GroundUp electronically or via courier, Gert van der Merwe, from Van der Merwe and Associates, responded that the documents were 4 000 pages long and they were not willing to incur the expense of couriering them to Cape Town. However, GroundUp was invited to peruse them in their boardroom in Pretoria.

Some of the questions Siyangena were asked, which they did not answer, were:

Which entity was responsible for automating these gates with the ticketing system?

Why have they not been automated in line with the ticketing system?

Have the gates Siyangena was contracted to install at other stations been installed and automated?

When Montana was approached for comment via Twitter where he is active, he replied that he does not respond to the media on Prasa matters, and advised GroundUp to read his review application against the Public Protector. When asked for this application, Montana declined to provide it.

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