Mbalula acts on allegations of maladministration that saw commuters being transported in ‘moving coffins’
It has taken nearly six years, but finally commuters are seeing something being done about the shoddy transport system provided by a government-owned bus company, as well as allegations of corruption and looting.
While the forensic report containing the damning allegations of maladministration at the North West Transport Investment (NTI) was gathering dust, commuters were being ferried in “unroadworthy buses” and forking out for diesel.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula recently heard from them how bad things were, and he promised action.
Mbalula’s spokesperson, Ayanda-Allie Payne, said that the minister was committed to ensuring that the allegations of corruption and maladministration would be investigated.
“We are aware of investigations conducted by previous boards and the allegations of corruption and maladministration. The minister has committed to instituting a forensic investigation to specifically look into these allegations,” said Payne.
“This investigation will take into account any previous probes whose recommendations may not have been fully implemented.”
Meanwhile, the North West government said there had been some action based on the report.
Provincial spokesperson Vuyi Ngesi said the CEO, who had been dismissed, took the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) but a settlement had been reached and he had subsequently left the company.
Ngesi said the board chairperson was also removed, but was reinstated by the CCMA, compensated for loss of income and later appointed again as chairperson until his resignation early last year.
“The company instituted a criminal investigation with the Hawks into the allegations contained in the forensic report in 2014 and investigations are still ongoing,” Ngesi said.
The September 2013 report by Mochabapula Consulting Services revealed that old buses were sold “irregularly” and 95 second-hand and smaller ones were bought at prices of new ones with a bigger seating capacity.
More than R140 million was spent on purchasing the fleet, the specifications of which didn’t match those agreed to by the board.
It was also revealed that the wife of the then CEO of NTI ended up with three buses of the 52 that were irregularly sold by the company in 2011.
She was, according to the report, one of those who won contracts to provide scholar transport in the North West.
“The company suffered financial prejudice because the buses were not supposed to be sold and, when they were sold, they were not properly and competently valued,” the report said.
City Press has previously reported on how an aircraft and a hanger valued at R9 million and R1.7 million respectively were sold for a combined R6.5 million … thus realising a loss of R4.2 million.
“Our investigation found that this was a forced sale because the NTI did not have money to pay salaries,” the report said.
Although wholly owned by the North West government, the NTI’s biggest footprint was in Gauteng.
After his consultations with commuters in some of areas including Hammanskraal, Mabopane and Atteridgeville, Mbalula compared NTI buses to “moving coffins”.
He heard how commuters had to dig into their own pockets to fill up the buses with diesel and pay toll fees even though they had already bought tickets.
“You’ll find that these buses were unable to carry commuters to work because of fuel shortages, which means the company did not properly oversee the running of the buses,” Mbalula said in a video he tweeted recently.
Immediate remedial plans
Mbalula told commuters that the NTI contract was not going to be renewed when it lapsed.
He also announced a short-term remedial plan that saw him deliver the first of a promised fleet of 200 buses acquired from small operators sub-contracted to NTI on its existing contract.
“It must be understood that the current challenge is as a result of the NTI not being able to service a number of its contracted routes due to fleet shortages,” Payne said.
“These new buses will be deployed on routes the NTI is unable to service and where NTI buses have been taken off the road because they weren’t roadworthy.”
Could this be the end for the NTI?
A new board will be appointed with the mandate of turning around the embattled company.
“The minister’s intervention is intended to both rescue the NTI and place the interests of the citizens at the centre of the service delivery agenda. Poor service delivery should not be tolerated irrespective of who the service provider is – be it a state-owned company or a private operator,” Payne said.
“In demonstrating his commitment to rescuing the NTI and ensuring that it becomes a viable company, the minister, in consultation with the North West MEC for community safety and transport, Sello Lehari, is in the process of appointing an interim board with a specific mandate to turn around the company and return it to sound financial health.”
Ngesi said they believed that “any turnaround strategy should be sensitive to any job losses as well as the interests of commuters”.
Meanwhile, Kgabo Maponya, under whose tenure as chairperson of the NTI board some of the allegations in the report occurred, requested that City Press mention that he had refuted the findings of the report.
Maponya, whose name appeared in the report, previously argued that there was “no evidence or proof to the contents of the report”.
He said the “report should not be relied on because it was concocted to tarnish the images of certain individuals”, including himself.
One of the things Maponya denied was that the aircraft was sold irregularly and he provided documents showing that it was sold by a company appointed for the purpose.
But Mochabapula CEO Johannes Mohlabine was confident about his company’s findings.
“Our findings are with the Hawks and they have been calling me for any clarity and they are happy with our report,” Mohlabine told City Press previously.