The Portfolio Committee on Transport met to receive briefings from #UniteBehind, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), Metrorail, the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) and the Department of Transport on commuter operations and safety.
However, the meeting was first temporarily postponed and later rescheduled due to the non-attendance of the interim PRASA Board. PRASA indicated that there was confusion with the invite from the Committee and that they had only received it the previous day. The Committee expressed its disgust and disappointment with the conduct of PRASA’s interim Board as it was not the first time that it had missed scheduled meetings. The Committee had earlier postponed a meeting scheduled 30 January 2018 with PRASA because it did not honour the meeting. The Committee indicated that the service PRASA was rendering was meant to benefit the poor, and the cornerstone of the service started with being accountable to Parliament, which appropriated funding to the entities and Departments. Furthermore, even if there had been confusion with the invitation, it was PRASA’s responsibility to call and find out what and who the Committee wanted. Members remarked that PRASA’s loyalty should be to the millions of poor people who rely on trains for daily living and participation into the economy of this country hence, it should account and respect Parliament.
The Committee indicated that the conduct of the Interim Board showed absolute disregard to the Committee. The Committee asked PRASA to correct the impression that the fault was from the Committee secretary by asking PRASA to clarify if the language used to communicate the meeting invitation was wrong. It observed that there was lack of coordination within PRASA as the Committee had invited PRASA and its Board to a meeting with the Committee on 30th January, 2018 but PRASA and its interim Board had failed to attend. The Committee resolved that the meeting be adjourned and reconvened at 2.00 pm to allow the PRASA interim Board members to arrive from Johannesburg and attend the meeting.
The Committee resolved to subpoena the interim board the following week and read into record the outstanding matter that the interim board had to respond to when it finally came which were:
- a detailed report on the process followed by PRASA in the appointment of Werksmans Attorneys to conduct an investigation
- The terms of reference for that appointment and a status report of the investigation by Werksmans
- The shareholders compact between the Minister of Transport and PRASA and a turnaround strategy for PRASA operations
- A report on the suspensions of some Metrorail regional managers, a 40 pages report on the rolling stock modernization programme, outstanding questions responses from the meeting of the 7 March 2017 and a copy of the report submitted to the Minister of Transport regarding salary of former AGCEO
- A resolution of the then board and approval of the Minister of Transport for the decision on the remuneration, of board directors by the 31 August 2017. The Committee had wanted to know how much each board director had been paid.
- the current state and maintenance of the rolling stock, the available rolling stock per province, why the Metrorail customer base was shrinking and what strategies had been implemented to improve customer satisfaction
- A schedule of PRASA Staff disciplinary outstanding matters, Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) matters, CCMA awards against PRASA, number of staff on suspension and the minutes of board meetings for the past two years.
The Acting Chairperson welcomed members and asked the delegations from #UniteBehind, Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA), Metrorail, the Railway Safety Regulator (RSR) and the Department of Transport (DoT) for introductions. He observed that PRASA’s Board was not in attendance and asked the Acting Group Chief Executive Officer (AGCEO) to explain why the interim Board was absent.
Mr Cromet Molepo, AGCEO, PRASA, indicated that there seemed to have been some confusion with the invitation from the Committee and that it reached PRASA only on 5 February 2018.
The Acting Chairperson asked Mr Molepo to clarify if there was a confusion or misunderstanding on the invitation of PRASA. He asked DoT to define what would happen if the Board needed to take responsibility as the Board had to account to Parliament. He also asked the Committee Secretary to give clarity on the invitation sent to PRASA.
Ms Valerie Carelse, Committee Secretary, explained that the confusion was not from the Secretariat because it had been made known to the interim Board that its attendance was needed at the meeting. Also, PRASA had received an earlier invitation from the Committee to attend a meeting on 30 January, 2018 and had not attended that earlier meeting as well.
Mr Sipho Dibakwane, Office of the Director-General (DG), DoT, indicated that there had been no confusion, as the invitation which clearly specified the composition of the delegation that was invited; had been sent to PRASA and RSR. That had been evidenced by the presence of the Board Chairperson of RSR at the meeting thus, the problem was from PRASA and not from DoT.
Mr T Mpanza (ANC) stated that it had always been the norm for the accounting authority and executive in any entity to attend meetings of the entity at Parliament hence, he did not see any confusion. He indicated that unavailability of the PRASA interim Board at the meeting was unacceptable.
Mr M De Freitas (DA) remarked that the PRASA’s interim Board non-attendance at the meeting was not due to confusion but an excuse, and a deliberate ploy to avoid been questioned on the challenges of the entity. He insisted that the Committee call the interim Board to attend the meeting because an invitation to an entity did not differentiate between the executive and the Board.
Ms S Xego (ANC) indicated that it was unfortunate that PRASA’s interim Board was not available for the meeting. She proposed that the Committee write to the Board and copy the Minister of Transport.
Mr M Sibande (ANC) expressed disappointment with PRASA’s interim Board on its non-availability for the meeting and remarked that the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) clearly stated the responsibility of the Board. When the Committee Secretary issued an invitation and confusion resulted then the Board ought to have enquired and sought clarity. It was not the first time that PRASA had missed a meeting it was supposed to attend; it had not attended an earlier meeting with the Committee on 30 January 2018. Since the Parliamentary Liaison Officer was present in the meeting as a representative of the Minister and would give feedback to the Minister, the Committee needed to deliberate on the way forward.
Ms D Magadzi (ANC) said the Committee was disgusted and disappointed with the conduct of PRASA’s interim Board as it was not the first time that it had missed meetings. She recalled that the meeting with PRASA should have happened on 30 January 2018 but the Committee had had to reschedule because PRASA had not honoured that meeting. PRASA was claiming that an invitation that came through the Minister had been received only on 5 February 2018. Additionally, PRASA was alleging that the Minister had not mandated it to attend the meeting. Even though the Committee had not been able to meet with PRASA on 30 January 2018 it had earmarked the whole day today to engage with PRASA. The service PRASA was rendering was meant to benefit the poor, and the cornerstone of that service started with being accountable to Parliament, which appropriated funding to the entities and Departments. Furthermore, even if there had been confusion with the invitation, it was PRASA’s responsibility to call and find out what and who the Committee wanted. PRASA’s loyalty had to be to the millions of poor people who relied on trains for daily living and participation into the economy of this country hence, it should account and respect Parliament.
The Acting Chairperson remarked that an air flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town would take only two hours if the Board had an intention to attend the meeting. Also, as the Committee had earmarked a whole day for the meeting PRASA’s executive had to get in touch with its Board directors to ensure that the Board arranged to attend the meeting.
Mr H Hunsinger (DA) remarked that he had been informed that a transport summit was taking place and the Committee was not aware. He asked PRASA executives to confirm if the Board was attending the summit and if an invitation to attend the summit had been extended to the Committee.
The Acting Chairperson indicated that the Committee did not want to assume anything and asked PRASA to confirm what had happened because the meeting was supposed to address safety and technical issues. The presence of the interim Board was needed as the Committee would make some recommendations that the Board needed to be aware. He remarked that if PRASA was confused earlier it had been clarified now hence, he requested the executives to communicate with the interim Board that the Committee had earmarked the whole day to meet with PRASA and was awaiting the Board members.
He observed that PRASA had not sent an apology for not attending the meeting on 30 January 2018 and PRASA’s AGCEO had not referred to the meeting in any way. He indicated the Committees’ displeasure and disgust at PRASA’s non-availability for the meeting and stated that if the meeting was cancelled it was on account of PRASA. He gave PRASA executives time to communicate with the Interim Board
He instructed the AGCEO to request the Board to attend the meeting.
Mr Molepo indicated that he had communicated with the Interim Board Chairperson and had handed the phone to Ms Magadzi (Committee Chairperson) to talk to interim Chairperson of the Board.
The Acting Chairperson asked for clarity about the task given as he had given the task to Mr Molepo and not the committee chairperson.
Ms Magadzi replied that she had intervened because she had initially called the Interim Board Chairperson but the caller number had been engaged. She later found out that Mr Molepo had been discussing with the Interim Chairperson of the Board, Adv Tintswalo Annah Nana Makhubele. She was able to confirm that the interim Board had received the invitation but was confused with the attendance arrangements. Adv Makhubele had indicated that she had a prior appointment for 1.00 pm and would board a flight immediately after the appointment but would arrange with other Board members to take the next flight from Johannesburg to ensure that the interim Board attended the meeting.
Mr De Freitas indicated that the conduct of the Interim Board showed absolute disregard to the Committee. He proposed that the Committee summoned the interim Board for an urgent meeting.
Mr Sibande expressed concerns about PRASA executives using the chairperson of the committee to get feedback from their own Interim Board Chairperson. He asked PRASA to correct the impression that the fault was from the Committee secretary by asking them to clarify if the language used to communicate the meeting invitation had been wrong. He remarked that the same language had been used to communicate to other entities and the entities understood clearly; as evidenced by the presence of the Board Chairperson of RSR and other entities that attended meetings with the Committee. He observed that there was lack of coordination within PRASA as the Committee had invited PRASA and its Board to an earlier meeting with the Committee on 30 January 2018 which PRASA and its Board had failed to attend.
Mr S Radebe (ANC) expressed disappointment at PRASA because during the meeting on 30 January 2018 the Committee had given strict instructions to the DoT, PRASA and its interim Board to come before the Committee but PRASA had failed to attend the meeting.
Mr Dibakwane recalled that DoT had communicated with the interim Board members and AGCEO’s office so the problem was with PRASA and not DoT.
Mr Sibande reiterated and emphasised that he wanted to know what had been wrong with the invitation sent to PRASA
The Acting Chairperson asked PRASA executives to confirm the flight that PRASA would take to ensure that the Committee would have a time to reconvene.
Mr Molepo stated that his team would check with the company secretary to confirm when the Interim Board would get to Cape Town and attend the meeting.
The Acting Chairperson stated that the Committee would be reasonable and adjourn the meeting to 14.00 pm.
Mr Molepo stated that his colleague was following up and would give guidance as soon as possible.
Mr Mpanza indicated that the Committee did not want PRASA to give it guidance but needed it to assure the Committee of the presence of its interim Board members.
Dr Sipho Sithole, Group Chief Strategy Officer, PRASA indicated that PRASA would give feedback to the Committee with logistics as soon as flights were confirmed.
The Acting Chairperson stated that the Committee was not interested in flight booking details but only wanted assurances from PRASA.
Ms Xego proposed that the Committee give PRASA 30 minutes to complete the arrangements before the meeting was reconvened.
Mr Molepo pleaded for time to confirm flight booking details to ensure PRASA could give an estimated time of arrival for the interim Board members.
Mr Sibande remarked that the arrangement could not be conditional as PRASA had received prior invitations to attend the meeting of 30 January 2018 and another invitation to attend the meeting of 6 February after the earlier had been postponed. He proposed that the Committee should not accept any conditions because the PFMA section 86(1) and (2) spelt out the roles of the Board. The Board could not take the Committee for granted and he did not accept any conditional arrangement to the attendance of interim Board members.
Mr Radebe supported the earlier proposal that the Committee should mandate the interim Board members to attend the meeting by 14:00 pm as railway accidents had occurred hence PRASA interim Board members and RSR Board needed to account.
The Acting Chairperson stated that the proposal for 30 minutes for PRASA executives to complete logistics did not receive support hence the Committee was not granting PRASA any waivers. He resolved that the Committee would adjourn and reconvene at 14:00 pm with PRASA’s interim Board members and the RSR Board in attendance.
The meeting was adjourned.
The Committee reconvened at 14:00pm
The Acting Chairperson greeted everyone that had returned noting that the meeting was adjourned earlier to allow for the PRASA interim board to make an appearance before the Committee. He asked the PRASA AGCEO to respond to whether the board had arrived.
Mr Molepo confirmed that he had been in contact with PRASA secretariat and the board Chairperson and had been told that the board Chairperson was in a doctor’s appointment and that all the current interim board members except for Mr Xolile George had been in different places and would be unable to attend the meeting as requested by the Committee.
The Acting Chairperson asked that the AGCEO to speak to the microphone naming the board members for record purposes.
Mr Molepo complied. He further explained that there had been a new board appointment representing National Treasury (NT) but the process was still being finalised. He confirmed that the communication from the Department of Transport (DoT) to PRASA had indeed arrived on Thursday, 1 February 2018 but there was no clarity as to why the information reached the interim board Chairperson on 5 February 2018.
The Acting Chairperson asked whether the DoT representative on the board of PRASA was in attendance.
Mr Molepo said the DoT representative at the meeting was not the DoT board representative as he also could not be reached.
The Acting Chairperson emphasised that from his hearing the entire PRASA board inclusive of the DoT representative, had managed to come to Parliament as requested by the Committee.
The DoT representative confirmed Mr Molepo’s report that they had contacted the company secretary of PRASA to request the board of PRASA to present itself before the Committee in Parliament.
The Acting Chairperson summarised that the result from the report then was that the PRASA board was not coming. He then allowed the Committee to give input.
Mr Radebe sought clarity if the DoT representative in the PRASA Interim Board was Mr G Maluleke. He said in previous engagements that representative had failed to give the Committee adequate responses regarding matters at PRASA, and action had to be taken against Mr Maluleke. He proposed that Mr Maluleke had to be reshuffled as he had no interest and accountability towards the Committee regarding the challenges at PRASA. He was concerned about how the interim board Chairperson only became aware of the Committee’s meeting the previous day. Furthermore he was concerned whether the presentation submitted to the Committee had been tabled to PRASA’s interim board.
Mr Hunsinger said the interim PRASA board had been given ample time to get to Parliament and he was embarrassed by the final result of what had transpired because PRASA was already in a leadership crisis. He proposed that the Committee had to consider serious measures to create that sense of urgency and develop the necessity of what the Committee was trying to achieve in terms of its oversight capacity.
Ms Magadzi bemoaned that the Committee had waited for six hours and echoed Mr Radebe’s sentiments that the Committee could not engage on a report which had not been ratified by PRASA’s interim board. She ruled that the Committee would subpoena PRASA’s interim board to appear before it whether they wanted to or not. It would be fruitless to engage on matters relating to PRASA, including the presentation, as the interim board could simply disown the document and Committee recommendations. There were still outstanding issues from sometime in 2016 where the Committee had requested information from PRASA which the entity had not responded to, to date. PRASA was quite disrespectful and the Committee could no longer put up with that.
Mr De Freitas agreed with the Chairperson’s proposal that the interim board be subpoenaed as the absence of that interim board was a wasted day for the Committee and the invited guests which had honored the invite. It was saddening as thousands of commuters had lost their jobs having depended of the failing PRASA infrastructure. It was a slap in the face that the interim board could not attend the meeting and he believed a deeper investigation needed to be instituted regarding PRASA. The Committee had to apply to Parliament to meet every day the following week if it had to and a subpoena had to be issued for the interim board to come next Tuesday, 13 February 2018.
Mr Mpanza supported the proposal by the Chairperson and Mr De Freitas that PRASA’s entire interim board come before the Committee on 13 February 2018 without fail and that no apologies would be accepted. He said that the Committee was apologetic to the #unitebehind delegation and other visitors for having wasted their time though it was not as a failure of the Committee. The sooner a permanent board of PRASA is appointed the better because interim arrangements sometimes led to such failures in accountability as people neglected their responsibilities.
Mr Sibande said the Committee was being undermined and reiterated the Committee’s apology to the RSR and #unitebehind. The subpoena had to be sent to PRASA before the end of business and he then referenced the PFMA in section:
51 General responsibilities of accounting authorities
(1) An accounting authority for a public entity- (c) is responsible for the management, including the safeguarding, of the assets and for the management of the revenue, expenditure and liabilities of the public entity. (f) is responsible for the submission by the public entity of all reports, returns, notices and other information to Parliament, and to the relevant executive authority or treasury, as may be required by this Act.
Mr Sibande recalled that PRASA’s previous board had a tendency to submit apologies and if the board Chairperson attended, it would not be for the whole meeting. The Chairperson of the Committee and Mr Mpanza had already submitted sick leave applications and had been granted said leave by Parliament but because of the urgency and importance of the meeting the Committee had scheduled, the members had forced themselves to attend the meeting whilst sick. Of the outstanding issues at PRASA had been the matter of monies paid to board directors of the previous board, which they had agreed to pay back but, the Committee had learned that only some of those previous board members had paid back the money. He wanted the names from PRASA of the previous board members which had not repaid the board fees they had promised to return to PRASA’s purse. He wanted to know whether PRASA currently complied with the National Development Plan (NDP) in its operations. He had also heard that PRASA had attended a transport summit in Cape Town with the City of Cape Town (CoCT), the DoT and the Western Cape Provincial Government (WCPG).
Finally, Mr Sibande asked the DoT to ensure that it seconded responsible people to the Committee and entities so that blame shifting could be a thing of the past when the Committee had questions.
Ms Magadzi said that she did not recall in PRASA’s Annual Performance Plan (APP) mention of a transport summit. Such an event would certainly be fruitless and unauthorized expenditure and she cautioned PRASA against fiscal dumping.
The Acting Chairperson asked Mr Molepo not to only respond to Mr Radebe’s question but to also explain what he directly did in engaging with the interim board Chairperson regarding the meeting, especially the revelation that Adv Makhubele was only notified on 5 February 2018 of the meeting underway. What had happened between the time the letter reached PRASA and the time of the meeting? Mr Molepo had to respond to the allegation regarding a transport summit and who had authorised such an event?
Mr Molepo replied that upon notification and reception of the invite of the Committee from the DoT on 1 February 2018, he had notified the interim board Chairperson about the need for the board to present itself to Parliament. He had informed the board chairperson that he would summon senior executives to prepare a presentation which would be tabled before the interim board on 2 February 2018. That communiqué had been through the company secretary and he only found out yesterday about the interim board Chairperson’s surprise, when he was confirming that he would meet her on this morning to go through the presentation before tabling it to Parliament.
PRASA did not organize a summit but had received an invitation from the CoCT which had not been responded to yet. Therefore it was not in the APP or the agenda of PRASA.
The Acting Chairperson reiterated his question stating that he wanted clarity on when the AGCEO had personally spoken to the interim board Chairperson.
Mr Molepo said he had spoken to Adv Makhubele on 1 February 2018.
The Acting Chairperson reiterated that it was embarrassing and shameful that the Committee would have to compel the interim board of PRASA to appear before Parliament. The history of non-compliance by boards of PRASA was long and the letter of subpoena would detail them. There had been expenses incurred for the meeting by PRASA which the Auditor-General South Africa (AGSA) would report as wasteful. He asked the Committee Secretary to remind the Committee what remained outstanding from PRASA which the Committee had requested. The central line had remained out of service for at least five weeks. Problematic within PRASA was the centralization of power which was why the Committee had hinted at the need for power to be devolved. He asked for a motion of the subpoena formally.
Ms Magadzi moved to subpoena the entire interim board of PRASA to appear before the Committee on the 13 February 2018.
Mr De Freitas seconded the motion.
The subpoena was adopted.
Mr Radebe proposed that the PRASA executives had to ensure that the subpoena and presentation was processed with its interim board so that the Committee could avoid a situation where the interim board and PRASA executives would come and fight amongst themselves, before the Committee the following Tuesday. He reminded the RSR that it would also have to return to Parliament for that meeting.
Mr Sibande asked what the alternative step would be if PRASA did not respond to subpoena?
The Acting Chairperson said there was no room for PRASA to avoid coming before the Committee after being subpoenaed. There was a standing Committee resolution regarding the ongoing board investigation which had been dissolved after the last permanent board meeting of PRASA. The resolution remained and the Committee would have to revisit it.
Mr Hunsinger said to date PRASA’s Annual Report (AR) was outstanding and that had to be added to the charge sheet and PRASA had to explain why that remained so. Additionally, he proposed that all outstanding matters had to be read into the record before the meeting was adjourned.
The Chairperson seconded Mr Hunsinger’s proposal.
Ms Carelse read that the outstanding issues were that:
- The Committee had requested a detailed report on the process followed by PRASA in the appointment of Werksmans Attorneys to conduct an investigation on 7 March 2017. The terms of reference for that appointment and a status report of the investigation by Werksmans. The shareholders compact between the Minister of Transport and PRASA and a turnaround strategy for PRASA operations without any response to date.
At a meeting of the 8 March 2017 PRASA had agreed to submit the following responses by 15 March 2017:
- A full report on work done by Werksmans, additional to the documents requested on 7 March 2017. A report on the suspensions of some Metrorail regional managers, a 40 pages report on the rolling stock modernization programme, outstanding questions responses from the meeting of the 7 March 2017 and a copy of the report submitted to the Minister of Transport regarding salary of former AGCEO.
At a meeting of 30 August 2017 PRASA had been requested to provide the Committee with a resolution of the then board and approval of the Minister of Transport for the decision on the remuneration, of board directors by the 31 August 2017. The Committee had wanted to know how much each board director had been paid.
The Committee on 7 & 8 March 2017 had wanted to know about the current state and maintenance of the rolling stock, the available rolling stock per province, why the Metrorail customer base was shrinking and what strategies had been implemented to improve customer satisfaction. PRASA had also been asked to make available the timeline and budget for its turnaround plan. The Committee had also been concerned about Metrorail’s performance and had asked about whether the then board was underperforming in comparison to a previous board.
The Committee had asked for a facility improvement strategy from PRASA as commuters had complained about maintenance at some stations. There had been questions about the maintenance of train tracks as that was negatively impacting the service.
On 31 August 2017 the Committee asked PRASA to submit within three weeks of the meeting a schedule of PRASA Staff disciplinary outstanding matters, Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) matters, CCMA awards against PRASA, number of staff on suspension and the minutes of board meetings for the past two years.
Mr De Freitas asked whether the interim board could be held personally liable for the wasteful expenditure for that day, as all too often meetings were rescheduled because boards did not pitch up and the Committee needed to make an example; and if between the four board members the amount was split equally that would probably be a big wake-up call. He proposed that the legal process be explored if that was possible.
Ms Xego proposed that the Secretary had to submit the very list she had read with the letter of subpoena which would go to the entity. She said DoT had to also send that schedule to PRASA so that the entity understood that whenever the Committee requested it, that meant the entire interim board and executives had to appear without fail.
The Acting Chairperson said that if the fruitless expenditure was taken to its logical end that meant something else had to be done to fix that; but if the proposal from Mr De Freitas of personal liability against the interim board was carried, that was possibly not in line with PFMA provisions but the proposal was on record and the Committee would determine in future that resolution.
He apologised to #unitebehind and RSR having wasted resources and time coming to be in Parliament for a meeting that never actually got off the ground, because the biggest stakeholder had not pitched-up.
He thanked everyone and the meeting was adjourned.
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