"Prasa is fertile ground for non-performers and wrongdoers."
This was among the opening remarks by recently appointed Prasa administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo, as he addressed a media briefing held by the rail organisation at its largest depot in Braamfontein earlier this week.
The embattled state-owned rail agency was placed under administration at the end of 2019.
Speaking of some of the impediments that brought the organisation to its knees over the years, Mpondo referred to Prasa as a "broken business" that had been eroded slowly.
"The reality we’re faced with, is that Prasa is a broken business," Mpondo said. "The business has experienced systematic erosion of value, which has taken place over a number of years."
He added that poor management had played a key role in the the crippling of the organisation.
"It’s important to note that questionable decisions have been taken by leadership with disastrous consequences. One telling example is that towards the end of last year, the interim board in its wisdom cancelled the security contracts without a contingency plan in place," said Mpondo.
As a result, Prasa has seen damage to infrastructure and rolling stock. Coaches continue to be stripped and electrical cables stolen. This has affected the usability of railway lines while the enterprise loses trains daily due to the targeting of copper cables.
“I am highlighting this because this surge in vandalism, is a major contributor to the service and schedule disruptions we experience on a daily basis,” said Mpondo.
In December 20 last year, trains were set alight at Prasa’s Braamfontein depot and caused damages of R50m, with members of the nearby squatter camp community being suspected of arson and theft.
According to Mpondo, another pressing issue at Prasa is a lack of reliable record keeping – in some instances, no record keeping at all.
“To my alarm, we realised that some investigation files are missing. These are meant to be kept in strong rooms but there is no record of movement of these files. This renders it difficult to implement consequence management for those fingered in these investigations,” he said.
In response to this, the administrator says he has set in motion an internal investigation to track these files in order to recover them and administer punishment to those implicated.
Last year in December, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula – who was at the briefing on Wednesday and gave members of the media a tour in the depot to show the extent of the damage to the trains – dissolved Prasa’s interim board in an attempt to turn around the company.
This followed the provision of a disclaimed audit opinion for the 2018/19 financial year in which Auditor General Kimi Makwetu reported the deteriorating executive management and lack of accountability by senior officials.
Despite R30bn in irregular expenditure, and irregular contracts that amounted to R1.57bn, Mpondo believes his 12-month period in office should restore some stability to Prasa.