'I am worried Prasa has been in a bad shape for a long time' - Nzimande

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Transport Minister Blade Nzimande
Transport Minister Blade Nzimande

Cape Town – Transport Minister Blade Nzimande said it was not his original intention to appoint only an interim board for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). 

Nzimande on Tuesday briefed Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport on the status of vacancies within his departments and entities within his portfolio.

He appointed the interim board in April for a period of 12 months

"That was not my idea to do that, but the speed at which it happened – including resignation of members of the interim board – I had to move quickly.

"I also felt uncomfortable to appoint a board for full term. I felt it was important for further engagements."

As the meeting was ongoing, Prasa announced that Sibusiso Sithole has been appointed group CEO for a period of 12 months, with effect from June 1.

Chicken and egg

Nzimande said that Prasa did need a permanent board, or a board appointed for a full term, given the "challenges plaguing the entity".

"We have a chicken and egg situation", he said.

He explained it was important to take the time to determine what needed to be done to improve Prasa, and, in the next 12 months, the interim board must identify further challenges.

"I am worried Prasa has been in a bad shape for a long time and we must get things right," he said.

"I am concerned at Prasa; everything else was a priority except public transport… Prasa to me has been like an ATM."

He had complete confidence in the interim board, he added. 

Nzimande said the current board was dealing with piles of contracts, some genuine, while others were not. Payments were being requested for some contracts. But Nzimande said he had instructed the board to challenge by the courts contracts that they felt should be challenged.

He has urged the new board to study reports on the entity by forensic investigators, and take action.

"One of the things I found when I came [was that] the board did not adequately defend Prasa for cases that came before it. It is one of the reasons I saw it as an ATM.

"I could not understand people make claims and [the board was] not disputing them.”

Rocky start

Earlier, the meeting got off to a rocky start over a disagreement about the agenda.

Prasa’s board was meant to table the annual report for 2016/17. The annual report is already eight months late.

However, chair of the committee, Dikeledi Magadzi, informed MPs and the minister that Prasa would only brief after lunch. Nzimande expressed his disappointment, saying that he would have preferred to engage with the Prasa board too, and would not be able to attend their briefing in the afternoon, as he had to table the department’s budget vote with the National Council of Provinces.

Other MPs also took issue with the change, but Magadzi said she did not have time for "tantrums". The meeting proceeded with a new agenda as the Prasa board would only arrive in the afternoon.

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