'Broken' passenger rail agency's war room to now fall under administrator


Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula announced on Wednesday that the "war room" he set up in August 2019 to turn around the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa would be wound down as many of its functions are being transferred to the state-owned entity's administrator. 

Mbalula placed Prasa under administration in early December. 

In a statement on Wednesday, Mbalula said that Prasa was a "broken organisation, struggling to provide an efficient commuter and passenger rail service". 

The minister is currently addressing the media in Johannesburg. 

"The administrator is now in the process of facilitating an orderly winding down of the War Room, which would entail incorporating its targets into the work of the management under his leadership," he said in the statement.  

Mbalula explained that the war room was never intended to be a "silver bullet" to rid Prasa of its "chronic ailments".

"Extending the mandate of the War Room beyond its original target of 31 December 2019 would have been counter-productive," he said.

The minister said that although the war room had not met all of its targets, he had seen progress in improving operational performance at the rail agency. The war room also helped in "energising management" and mobilising staff behind a focused vision, he added.

As for Prasa's turnaround plan, the administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo will focus on speeding up interventions to improve operational performance, expedite the modernisation programme, ensure security interventions and review the organisational design and business model, among other things.

He will also address matters raised in the Auditor-General's report on the entity – Prasa regressed in its audit outcomes for 2018/19, and as much as R27.2bn was flagged as irregular expenditure.

"A lot of what has hampered progress there, is that there hasn’t been implementation. What we need to do is make sure that quick decisions are made - but we package and review what is there and we begin to implement that," Mpondo said at the briefing.

So far steps had been taken to strengthen Prasa's executive by setting up five-subcommittees for revenue enhancement and cost containment, governance, service recovery, safety management, capital and modernisation programme acceleration.

The chairpersons of the sub-committees have been appointed and begun their work. "This will bring much needed integration into the workings of the executive team as well as seek to foster joint accountability," Mpondo said.

Steps will also be taken to make permanent appointments where there are critical vacancies at senior levels of the organisation, he added.

Given that Mpondo's term in office is expected to run for 12 months, he believes this is enough to foster stability for the turnaround strategy.  

"To be realistic, 12 months is too little but 12 months must give you the stability and there must be activity in the organisation that is pointing you in the right direction, in that way you can be able to have a solid platform that you can build on.

"When you've got order, and colleagues know what they need to be doing and people are being held to account - on that you can then start building so we don't have service lapses like we have. That order speaks to ensuring that you have the right component equipment when you need them which have not been happening", Mpondo told Fin24.

The administrator added that the biggest opportunity with the intervention of the minister is that decisions will be made quicker. "You don't have to wait three months for a board to sit for decision to be taken."

Commenting on operations, Mpondo said that the central line in Cape Town has not been running for three months. An upgrade, which will take place over a six-month-period is planned, and the track and fencing will be looked at. Alternative modes of transport, such as buses are being considered, for the duration of the upgrades.

Additional reporting by Jan Cronje

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