New Prasa board members won't stick heads in sand like ostriches, says chair

Cape Town - The portfolio committee on transport heard on Tuesday that the tabling of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa's (Prasa’s) annual report for 2016/17, which has been delayed for eight months, is close to being finalised.

The rail company’s interim board briefed the committee on challenges at the entity, and gave the assurance that the audit committee would finalise the 2016/17 report at a meeting on June 12. Thereafter, it will be brought before the board for approval before it can be tabled.

“It is dark but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” board chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama said of the report, which is expected to receive a qualified audit opinion.

Earlier, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande raised concern over Prasa, which he said had been treated like an ATM and has probably been in bad shape for a long time. But he reaffirmed his confidence in the interim board, which he appointed in April. The board will serve for a 12-month term.

Prasa also on Tuesday announced the appointment of interim group CEO Sibusiso Sithole. Kweyama told the committee that Sithole’s appointment addressed one of the first areas of need, as there has been instability at the entity due to leadership gaps.

Kweyama also said that the new board has “no intention of not honouring responsibilities”, and of not doing what is best for South Africans. “The board is committed to being accountable to the people of South Africa,” she said in her opening remarks.

She added that the board consists of professionals, people of "integrity" who will ensure that Prasa "functions well". The board started off with a number of problems at the entity, and Kweyama gave the assurance that board members would not be like ostriches, sticking their heads in the sand and pretending that there are no problems.

Kweyama said that there has been a lack of stability in Prasa since August 2014, pointing out that the agency has had a number of board appointments and five acting CEOs in 34 months.

“We hope that governance and leadership instability will change to stability,” she said. “There has been a history of instability at Prasa.

“This explains why a number of projects have not been rolled out or decisions were not instituted, because there has been so much turnaround at the leadership level,” she said.

Prasa also failed to spend its allocated capital expenditure and the instability of boards is linked to this, Kweyama said. In its fourth-quarter report for 2017/18, the Department of Transport showed that Prasa underspent its R19.2bn budget by R4.8bn.

Other issues that were picked up include staff morale. “Staff morale is an issue, people are feeling low and beaten. Human capital is an issue, the top of our agenda is people,” Kweyama said.


She also spoke on the investigations at Prasa over the past year. The board will meet with service providers who conducted the investigations.

“We will meet with Werksmans attorneys to receive the report. This report has not been given to Prasa before, mainly because it was an investigation started by the previous board.

“In the absence of the previous board during its finalisation, no one was able to receive the report,” she said. Prasa will receive the report this week and will carry out actions where wrongdoing is identified.

During a question and answer session with MPs, Kweyama said that the board is looking to conclude its turnaround plan in July, with amendments to be made in August.

The interim CEO also shared a few words near the end of the hearing. Sithole said he is delighted to be appointed, and that he is aware of the challenges the entity is facing. “My work obviously is to develop the turnaround (strategy) as we committed to (finalise) within two months,” he said.

Sithole added that he is ready to meet with various stakeholders internally and externally to gain insight on critical issues that need to be attended to.

Chair of the portfolio committee of transport Dikeledi Magadzi said in the coming months the committee would hold him accountable to his statements.

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