Prasa CEO appointment marks beginning of new era: Mbalula

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  • The Passenger Rail Agency (Prasa) of South Africa has not had a permanet CEO since the departure of Lucky Montana in 2015.
  • Prasa's financial challenges became more pronounced in the 2015/16 financial year, where irregular expenditure stood at R4.1 billion.
  • Allegations of corruption have been levelled against some senior managers, with three executives fired in January.

The appointment the new permanent CEO of Prasa signifies the "beginning of a new era" for the rail agency which is beset by operational and financial challenges, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said on Saturday.

Zolani Matthews has been named Group CEO of Prasa after years of leadership instability and allegations of claims of corruption which have led to the dismissal of some senior employees.

Matthews, a councillor at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) will starts his new job next March. He committed to upholding and rebuilding a culture of good governance at the agency, stating that his first task would involve getting a "clear understanding of the ongoing issues and implementing the measures that have already been taken by the board" to stabilise the company.

"It is going to be a process," he said, adding that he is expected not to waste time in fixing what has been described a "broken" organisation.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has not had a permanent CEO since the departure of Lucky Montana in 2015. A total of 10 acting CEO’s had been appointed since Montana's departure, and the agency was in December 2019 placed under administration as its financial and leadership woes deteriorated.

Mbalula said Prasa's financial challenges became more pronounced  in the 2015/16 financial year, as irregular expenditure hit R4.1 billion, with  fruitless and wasteful expenditure reaching of R541 million.

"The downward spiral continued in 2016/ 17, where Prasa had two boards....in 2017/18 Prasa had four boards in a single financial year, this perpetuated the instability. Irregular expenditure stood at R23.4 billion, an increase from R19.6 billion in the previous year," he added.

In January, the agency announced that it had terminated the employment contracts of group chief executive for legal, risk and compliance Martha Ngoye, chief operating officer Nkosinathi Khena and PRASA Foundation chief executive officer Pearl Munthali over misconduct.

Mbalula said the agency has closed the taps of corruption, and applauded the role played by the agency's administrator, Bongisizwe Mpondo,  in turning around the struggling business. But his appointment was in August 2020  found by a court to be irregular, forcing him to vacate his position.

He said Mpondo faced a difficult time during his short tenure, with some people inside the organisation challenging and undermining and challenging his authority.

"Many things did not go the way as they were supposed to go."

"Today, the new is born, but the old chapter cannot be closed until we have stabilised corporate governance, management, commuter rail operations and resume the course towards modernising passenger rail in the country," Mbalula said who was appointed transport minister in May 2019.

Allegations of rampant mismanagement and financial challenges have in recent years compromised Prasa's role of providing reliable commuter service.

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