The Portfolio Committee on Transport met with the PRASA board and executives to discuss ways of resolving challenges in service delivery, such as derailments, delays in train schedules, accidents and losses as a result of burnt trains which were affecting rail transportation, particularly the Metrorail trains in the Cape Town area.
The new PRASA board chairperson reported on progress with the tasks given to the board by the Committee, such as its ‘Get-On-Track Rescue Plan’, the assurance that it had begun to implement disciplinary measures, and the completion date of November 2018 to fill all vacancies. The brief also touched on its implementation of supply chain management (SCM) policies, its engagement with stakeholders such as the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR), and the efforts of the board to avert the suspension of its operating licence.
PRASA described its interventions to recover railway stations in the provinces and at Cape Town Metrorail. It gave an outline of the eight conditions imposed by the RSR in order for it to secure its operating licence, and its progress in meeting them. It reported on the disciplinary proceedings and corruption investigation reports prepared by Werksmans Attorneys. It also included promises to examine the qualifications verification reports issued by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), to consider the Auditor General of South Africa’s (AGSA’s) findings on management letters and investigations conducted by PRASA's internal audit department in 2016/17 and 2017/18, as well as the investigation report by the investigators appointed by National Treasury. The Board had started discussions with the Head of the Hawks and the acting National Director of Public Prosecution on the investigation of the criminal complaints. PRASA faced the dual challenge of fixing the business and changing it at the same time.
During the meeting, the Committee received reports that Cape Town train station was burning, and asked the PRASA board chairperson to comment. She responded that many PRASA ex-service managers were disgruntled and were sabotaging the system to work against its executive. She likened the train arson attacks to “a national security threat,” and urged the State Security Agency to intervene and assist with intelligence gathering, investigation and identifying the threat.
The Committee expressed concern that despite the fact that PRASA was aware that commuters did not have any other means to get to work, and its poor performance was affecting the economy, its brief did not show any urgency. It said its action plans were not new, and although Metrorail was in crisis, the board was giving solutions that involved timelines of 12 months. The Committee faulted PRASA’s ‘Get-On-Track Rescue Plan,’ and asked it to focus on basic challenges that could yield quick results. It asked about the devolution of centralised store functions to PRASA regions, its skilled inventory, the efficacy of the signalling equipment, its rolling stock capacity, its internal control systems, its corruption investigations, the Werksmans Attorneys contract, events that had led to the suspension of its operating licence, and the status of the Ekurhuleni train component factory,
The Minister of Transport expressed concern over the planned suspension of the PRASA safety and operating licence by the RSR, and explained the view of the Department of Transport (DoT) on how the RSR should have addressed the safety challenges.
The Committee said that PRASA had three pressing challenges -- the need to increase capacity, to empower its regions to manage challenges, and to take urgent steps to address safety and signalling needs. The new PRASA board had to resolve the challenges and ensure that it built its reputation so that South Africans had trust and confidence in its ability to improve rail transport. PRASA had to improve the level of integration of its infrastructure, particularly its buses, decrease the level of accidents and improve infrastructure access and mobility, particularly in the rural areas. It pointed out that the President was presently trying to secure investors, and the Committee could not condone the destruction of infrastructure by angry commuters.
The Chairperson welcomed Members, the PRASA Board Chairperson and the team from both Department of Transport (DOT) and PRASA. She observed that during the Parliamentary recess, Metrorail had gone through challenges such as derailments, delays in train schedules, accidents and losses as a result of burnt trains. The PRASA board chairperson and its executive had been invited to acquaint the Committee with the situation. During the past oversight visits, the Committee had noted that the CCTV cameras were not in good working order, and staff appointed to monitor the CCTV cameras where not carrying out their duties in the correct manner. The Committee decided that it needed to invite PRASA to allow it describe the steps it was using to address the situation.
In 2014, when Members were newly inaugurated, PRASA had presented a good strategy of modernisation and revamping the railways which Members applauded and hoped would lead to service delivery. However, in 2015 corruption and vandalism of CCTV cameras and PRASA facilities was the order of the day, so the modernisation and revamping of the railways was thrown out. The Committee had asked the PRASA Board to prioritise service delivery during Advocate Tintswalo Makhubele’s tenure, because the Committee could not condone situations where citizens could not be transported from place to place.
In 2017, the Minister of Transport, Mr Joe Maswanganyi, had promised that new trains would be delivered to the Western Cape, but to date PRASA had not informed the Committee when the trains would be delivered. Further oversight visits to train stations had revealed stranded commuters and dilapidated trains. In the past three months, derailments and the burning of trains had increased and commuters had been delayed at stations.
The Committee would listen to the brief prepared by PRASA, but it wanted actionable plans to alleviate the problems. She invited the new PRASA board chairperson Ms Khanyisile Kweyama to brief the Committee.
PRASA Chairperson briefing
Ms Khanyisile Kweyama, the new PRASA Board chairperson, introduced the members of the board and her team. She apologised on behalf of key staff who were not available because they were at the courts to battle with the case on the suspension of PRASA’s operating licence.
PRASA was challenged with getting commuters to work on time, and she expressed her frustration over the state of affairs at PRASA. The Board had been trying to stabilise PRASA, with staff not coming to work and staff that did come but did not carry out their duties timeously. The Board had spent time to address statutory matters. The Committee had tasked it to complete and submit its 2016/17 annual report, develop and implement turnaround plans, institute disciplinary measures that arose after investigations on cases, and to fill vacancies.
The 2016/17 annual report had been completed and submitted on August 2018. PRASA had developed a ‘Get-On-Track Rescue Plan’, and had begun implementing disciplinary measures. It would complete the filling of vacancies by November 2018. The highlights of the ‘Get-On-Track Rescue Plan’ focused on arresting the current decline in business performance, driving efficiencies and effectiveness to improve service delivery, bringing organisational stability and strict governance, fixing what was broken while improving on what was working in PRASA’s organisational structure, fast tracking its modernisation programme to improve passenger rail travel experience and ensuring safety of both commuters and PRASA staff. PRASA intended to achieve the ‘Get-On-Track Rescue Plan’ by mobilising the entire staff and stakeholders around a set of collective values while managing change and instilling a positive organisational culture that would contribute to a PRASA that the country wanted.
The Board had met with some stakeholders because it recognised the place of participation in solving issues. When the Board was initiated, supply chain management policies were not in place, so resources and parts could not be delivered to enhance service delivery. Due to some staff that were not effectively carrying out jobs the Board had to spend time correcting mistakes in the 2016/17 annual reports. The Board had been horrified by matters raised by staff who had decided that they would not speak in the presence of management. Disciplinary measures were taking place, but it was not the policy of the Board to try its officers in a public space, and this and other challenges faced by PRASA would be discussed with the Committee in private. The PRASA Board had been negotiating with the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) for over three days, but it had to go to the courts to stop it from suspending its operational licence to avert a national disaster when commuters went to train stations and were informed that trains could not move. She invited the new PRASA group CEO Mr Sibusiso Sithole to brief the Committee.
Interventions to recover railway stations
Mr Sibusiso Sithole, the new PRASA group Chief Executive Officer (CEO), said the reasons for declining performance in rail operations were the continued unavailability and unreliability of rolling stock, unavailability of spares, the open nature of rail systems to theft and vandalism, and the increased levels of vandalism such as train burnings, cable cutting and theft, and window, door and lights theft. The remedies to improve rail performance included increasing train sets availability by unblocking supply chain management (SCM) challenges, improving the reliability of infrastructure (rehabilitating the conventional signalling system, targeting the hardening and vandal-proofing of critical equipment and replacing rails to improve safety and travel times), improving on safety and security measures in high risk areas (expanding CCTV surveillance) and focusing on dynamics in specific regions such as the Western Cape.
The recovery of commuter service dynamics in the Western Cape involved four steps. They were the recovery of the Nyanga Substation (50% of the network) and repair by 30 June 2019, constructing a concrete slab wall to protect the corridor by 31 October 2019, re-establishing Bonteheuwel and Kapteinsklip sub-stations by 31 December 2019, and the re-introduction of electronic-controlled signalling on central area train services by 31 December 2019.
Similarly, PRASA had initiated steps to recover commuter service dynamics in Gauteng. Gauteng had the highest number of Manual Train Authorisations (MTAs), and the completion rate was now 71.9% as against 82% earlier reported. The high numbers of MTA’s and speed restrictions in Gauteng had been caused by cable theft and vandalism of signal equipment. Ongoing remedies were re-signalling to modernise obsolete signals, and targeting the hardening and vandal-proofing of critical equipment.
Commuter service recovery dynamics in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) involved the restoration of rail lines and embankment infrastructure and the lifting of speed restrictions on the Stanger line. This had occurred due to the wash-aways which had damaged railway lines, and the need to lubricate per ways at Stanger line. TransNet had been appointed to recover damaged railway lines (target July 2019), and a TransNet resident engineer had also been appointed to lubricate per ways at Stanger line.
Commuter service recovery dynamics in Eastern Cape were due to the presence of one locomotive instead of nine. Locomotives had been purchased from TransNet.
The general high level interventions to recover the service delivery were to progressively make more reliable train sets available on a monthly basis at 100% configuration (12 coaches), to increase train sets from the current 177 sets (at 50% correct configuration) to 258 train sets at full configuration by 2018/19, to improve on-time performance from the current 68.3% to 78% by 2018/19, to reduce train cancellations from the current 13% of trains operated to 8% by 2018/19, to implement measures for the protection of assets, facilities and equipment in order to sustain the availability and reliability of the train system, to ensure the safety of passengers, public and staff within the PRASA rail system environment, and ensure that PRASA timeously gives commuters reliable information on train schedules.
The Metrorail service performance showed a progressive monthly decline from April 2018. This was caused by the theft of signal cables, per-way and signal equipment, and rolling stock Eequipment/components. Vandalism of signal cables has been identified as the root cause of commuter backlash and possible burning of trains. Remedies include auditing of damaged cameras, expanding CCTV surveillance in high risk areas and rolling it out to all stations, employment of 178 additional security personnel at Cape Town on-board and at the station, and 88 armed guards to accompany the crew at Cape Town. Drones, eight armed guards and two armoured vehicles have also been procured for the Cape Town. PRASA has also ensured that train crews and staff are protected in high risk areas, and rolled out new technology to provide on-board CCTV cameras on older trains (new trains are factory fitted with cameras).
The safety and security measures to combat crime also include joint ventures with the local authority and law enforcement to combat non-ferrous metal theft, enforcing prosecution in terms of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act, and dealing with illegal scrap metal dealers in terms of the Second Hand Goods Act. The asset-related crime arrests have increased, with 60 people arrested in August 2018 and stiffer sentences ranging from three to 30 years’ imprisonment have been given to people successfully prosecuted. PRASA has updated station, on-board and general communications to inform commuters about train service challenges that are service related, involve safety or security at stations or on board trains, through paid announcement in buses via SMS and WhatsApp.
The use of inflammatory materials such as seats has increased the rate of burning trains, which has impacted negatively on the finances of PRASA. Western Cape has contributed to about 71% of the total loss of nearly R636 million due to train fires in the last 3.5 years. The measures to deal with train fires include installation of cameras and censors on board trains to record suspicious activities and identify perpetrators, and engagement with the State Security Agency (SSA) to assist with the investigation and identification of potential threat. There is also engagement with Crime Intelligence and detectives at the national and provincial level to determine a potential threat and identify perpetrators, and intensifying deployment of security on identified hot spots and plain clothes SAPS on high risk trains. The measures also include escorting 'high risk' early and late trains, changing the scope of general overhaul coach specifications by removing soft combustible seats, co-operation with Transnet to identify joint hotspots and intensify patrols/deployments, and procuring SAPS blue light patrols at night to increase visibility in depot yards.
Mr Sithole said the railway safety regulator gave PRASA eight special conditions before it could obtain its current safety permit for 2018/19. He outlined the eight conditions and gave the Committee an update on the progress of PRASA on the eight conditions.
Highlights of the disciplinary matters from the findings of the Public Prosecutor were divided into irregular collusion and/or extension of security contracts, irregular extensions of engineering and services contracts; and other irregularities. The disciplinary proceedings against employees implicated started on Monday 1 October 2018, using legal procedures. PRASA has started looking at the investigation reports prepared by Werksmans Attorneys in order to start disciplinary proceedings in respect of the irregularities identified in these reports.
PRASA’s next focus would be to examine the qualifications verification reports issued by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). It would also consider the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA) findings on management letters and investigations conducted by PRASA's internal audit department in 2016/17 and 207/18, as well as the investigation report by the investigators appointed by National Treasury. The Board has started discussions with the Head of the Hawks and the acting National Director of Public Prosecutions on the investigation of the criminal complaints, and this would be discussed with the Committee in private, as mentioned by the chairperson of the board.
Ms Kweyama said PRASA was facing a dual challenge of fixing the business and changing it at the same time. Modernisation remained the catalyst for improving passenger travel experience, although the Committee should note that changing and modernising this business was not a quick fix. Hence PRASA relies on all its stakeholders to appreciate its ‘Get-On-Track Rescue Plan’ and support it to ensure that with the help of employees, who render superior performance, the Board would leave PRASA better than the way the way it was.
Mr L Ramatlakane (ANC) said he was surprised that the group CEO had not mentioned that the Minister for Transport was holding a forum at Khayelitsha to discuss the status of trains. He expressed his frustration with PRASA’s brief, despite the fact that PRASA was aware that commuters did not have any other means to get to work. The brief did not show any urgency, and the action plans it submitted had been presented to the Committee before. The remedy of providing 88 armed guards to accompany the crew at Cape Town had been presented by the past administration. During earlier meetings with the previous Boards, the Committee had advised the board not to focus on tomorrow when challenges were visible presently. The board had not heeded the warning nor solved the challenges, hence service delivery had collapsed. This present board was following the line of the earlier board by recycling the challenges faced by PRASA.
He expressed concern that Metrorail was in crisis, and the board was giving solutions that involved timelines of 12 months. The solution of procuring trains was not an excuse as there were trains that needed refurbishing at Salt River station. Staff not turning up for work was not an excuse and labour laws offered ways to deal with absent workers. He observed that centralising stores at Pretoria was not a working option, so PRASA needed to devolve functions to regions and state what the national office could do. The acting CEO, Mr Lindekhaya Zide, during the past board tenure promised the Committee that functions would be devolved by November 2017, but sadly 11 months later the functions had still not been devolved. PRASA had not informed the Committee of its skilled inventory, as staff that did not have the required qualification could not perform an engineer’s function.
He noted that during the Committees’ oversight visit, PRASA had informed Members that the signalling for train authorisations was 80% completed, but now the group CEO said it was 71.9%. He asked PRASA to take the Committee into its confidence, as accidents had increased at Gauteng due to faulty train signal equipment. Why were the CCTV cameras not yet in working order in the Western Cape, and why there was a delay in rolling stock capacity?
He asked the Department of Transport (DoT) to state its role in monitoring PRASA, because the group CEO had mentioned that contractors would be going on site. He asked PRASA to give updates on the investigations that involved its R200 million allocation, and proposed that PRASA cancel the Werksmans Attorneys contract. He recalled that the RSR had informed the Committee that PRASA was not complying with its directives and had threatened to suspend PRASA’s operating licence. He asked PRASA why RSR had gone ahead to suspend its licence if it was engaging with its stakeholders. The reality was that PRASA went to the courts to buy time and if it claimed that it did not have access to funds when they were available, then it needed to resolve its challenges.
Mr T Mpanza (ANC) said that the Committee had hopes that with the new board and management, PRASA would be able to fix its challenges. He asked for an update on the kidnapping and hijacking ordeal the board chairperson went through in July 2018. He asked the board chairperson to clarify if she was safe, as the Committee wanted to be assured that PRASA management did not condone such activities. He agreed that the PRASA SCM process needed to be decentralised to the provinces, but requested that the process be balanced and monitored by the DoT. He expressed happiness that PRASA would be launching new trains, and said the Committee looked forward to the launching.
As much as there were serious challenges in the Western Cape, PRASA needed to manage challenges that were occurring in other provinces such as KZN. He warned PRASA that the Committee did not want an activity-based organisation, but an output-based one, as service delivery was needed in communities. He agreed with Mr Ramatlakane that the Werksmans Attorneys contract should be cancelled and given to another firm, as the Committee could not see the value that the Werksmans Attorneys was providing. He asked PRASA to state the action plans that could be urgently implemented with the funds available to generate output, as the Committee could not condone surplus funds earning interest while PRASA was not carrying out capital projects. PRASA should focus on what interventions it could accomplish now to ensure that the Members had a good story to tell their constituents.
Ms S Xego (ANC) applauded the new board on the positive step of the appearance of all board members at meetings as against what had happened with other boards in the past. She said that the poor performance of PRASA was killing the economy, as children and workers got to school and work late. Also, job seekers’ and informal traders’ livelihoods were challenged by PRASA’s poor performance. She assured the board that the Committee was willing to work with it but asked the group CEO if PRASA had a risk management plan that would help it to develop strategies to avert its risks. The Committee applauded action plans but wanted to see results as well.
She asked PRASA to state what it had been doing since the time it received notice that RSR would suspend its licence, and how it would deploy the 88 armed guards that would accompany the crews at Cape Town. She commented that PRASA was scientific with its plans but not practical, and asked what plans it had for commuters that had bought weekly and monthly tickets. She was worried that the report of the Committee on PRASA would be negative, and asked it to convince the Committee that it would be able to resolve the challenges facing train transport presently. She asked PRASA to state in simple terms what it would do to alleviate the challenges of commuters and stop the community from revolting.
The Chairperson asked PRASA who authorised the appointment of Werksmans Attorneys, and why it was difficult to terminate the contract, as it had not followed the correct process. She also asked PRASA to clarify why other contractors felt that the award was not above board.
Mr Sithole said PRASA’s executive recognised that it had serious challenges to fix on rail transport as basic steps had not been taken in the past. He admitted that although the new executive of PRASA had taken steps to address issues, there was need to refresh some of the targets and recover services to improve commuter service delivery. He made a commitment that PRASA would put resources in to areas that needed urgent interventions. The new executive of PRASA had unlocked a process that should have happened and had been delayed for the last three to four years. He expressed happiness with the new SCM process, but cautioned that it should be decentralised in a balanced way. Funds had been budgeted to regions to constitute SCM processes, but management was waiting for board approval on the regional budgeted funds.
The Chairperson welcomed the Minister for Transport, Dr Blade Nzimande, and asked PRASA to clarify when disbursement of the funds budgeted to regions would commence.
Mr Sithole said PRASA would commence the disbursement after the board meeting in October.
The level of completeness of the signalling equipment at Pretoria had declined from 80% to 71.9% because of vandalism.
PRASA was presently auditing the benefits of its capital projects, and had reviewed its projects and reprioritised how funds would be spent. Reprioritisation would focus on general overhauls and would change condition-based maintenance systems.
PRASA was not embarking on new work with Werksmans Attorneys, but there were presently contracts that would be impractical to stop because they were at an advanced stage.
PRASA agreed that it should focus more on projects that would yield immediate outputs.
The Chairperson informed the Minister of Transport and PRASA that she had just received a message that the Cape Town rail station was burning.
The board chairperson also confirmed that she had just received a similar message that Platforms 16 and 17 of the Cape Town rail station was burning, but assured the Committee that her staff were addressing the situation.
She said that when the new executive commenced operations, it had identified issues such as the loss of past records, flimsy excuses that there was no data, and when the executive presented solutions it had received feedback that the solutions could not be carried out based on policies that were not available. The chairperson of the audit and risk committees on the board had to literarily redraft annual reports, and even though the board was supposed to meet four times in a year, it had to meet more than the stipulated times.
It had been inundated with complaints on the report of the Public Prosecutor on daily basis. The executive was following up with the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) and SAPS to ensure that the people involved were brought to book.
The PRASA board had met with the RSR more than three times to ensure that PRASA and RSR were aligned. The RSR had sent a letter to PRASA at 2.00pm on Friday 5 October, indicating that it would suspend PRASA’s safety licence within 48 hours. She had spoken via phone to the board chairperson of RSR and sent a letter to RSR that it should restrict the suspension to the area where the accident had happened. PRASA had gone to court when it discovered that the correspondence had not yielded a means to find a solution.
It was painful that when PRASA wanted to solve problems, some people did the contrary. PRASA was aware that many ex-service managers were disgruntled and were sabotaging the system to work against its executive. She likened the train arson attacks to “a national security threat,” and urged the State Security Agency to intervene and assist with intelligence gathering, investigation and identifying the threat.
Ms Doris Tshepe, Board member: PRASA, responded on the kidnapping and hijacking ordeal the board chairperson went through in July 2018. She said the matter was presently with SAPS, although progress was slow. PRASA was concerned that the board chairperson was receiving suspicious emails, but the board chairperson and PRASA appreciated the efforts of the Committee and the Minister to see to her welfare and bring the perpetrators to book.
The Chairperson invited Members to engage PRASA with follow-up questions.
Mr Ramatlakane said the Committee could not condone illegal acts, and asked why the resolution of the Committee to stop paying Werksmans Attorneys had not been carried out. The expenditure was not captured in PRASA’s budget, and he expressed concern about where the board got the funds to pay Werksmans Attorneys. If PRASA had appointed Werksmans Attorneys to represent it and flaws were detected in the process of appointing the firm, then PRASA should be able to stop the appointment. He accepted the commitment of PRASA to delegate to regions by November, and to revisit the turnaround times on its action plans, but disagreed with its approach to contracts.
Mr M Sibande (ANC) asked the board chairperson to clarify if PRASA and its infrastructure was safe in the hands of the board under her purview. Was it able to deliver on its service delivery promises? He recalled that AGSA had identified that PRASA was not stable, and this had contributed to weakening its financial management and internal controls. To ensure that the Committee could assist PRASA, he asked the DoT to explain why it could not complete its budgeted transfers to PRASA in the last financial year, despite available funds.
He recalled that in the last report, PRASA had indicated that it had procured 88 armed guards to accompany the crews in Cape Town. Had PRASA verified the claim by the union that some of the guards procured were gangsters? Where were the 88 armed guards deployed? What were the financial implications of procuring the guards, especially when it had not added any value to Metrorail’s operations in Cape Town?
He asked PRASA to clarify if its internal control systems were effective. He noted from the brief that the train sets in the Western Cape should be 88%, but were presently at 46%, and remarked that PRASA had to address this challenge because it could contribute to a revolt by commuters and result in the burning of trains.
He said the Committee could not accept that Werksmans Attorneys were appointed by a panel of lawyers if PRASA could not submit the signed contract to the Committee. He asked PRASA to justify the funds continually paid to Werksmans Attorneys when it could not prove that the investigation had rendered any value. He advised the PRASA board to submit its 2017/8 annual report to the Committee early to avert the late submissions that plagued the 2016/17 annual reports. He asked PRASA to clarify why it had not informed the Committee about the suspension of rail services in KZN, and the collision of trains and recent rail accidents in Pretoria that had contributed to why RSR had threatened to suspend its safety permit.
He asked PRASA for feedback on the Ekurhuleni train component factory, and to clarify how many people it had employed and how many trains it had built. He expressed concern on the termination of some contracts and tenders by PRASA, and said some of the contractors that were not paid might have contributed to the burning of trains. He asked PRASA to clarify if it had addressed the issue of ageing signalling equipment, as this was a contributor to manual train authorisations that had resulted in train collisions and accidents.
Mr Sithole said PRASA provided buses to ferry commuters with valid tickets, but agreed that the bus service provided might not be enough to service all the challenged commuters. PRASA was debating on more ways to address the issue of commuters who had paid for services that they did not enjoy.
Since some of the challenges faced by PRASA were societal. It needed to engage with stakeholders and inform them that trains did not only belong to the Government but to the community as well. In the past, PRASA had had challenges at Umlazi that had led to service suspension, and investigations had revealed that it was due to criminal activities, not just routine delays.
PRASA has identified its risks, which included the conditions for obtaining its safety and operational licence, so it was strengthening its audit unit to deal with the audit findings of previous years. It was also taking steps on consequence management for irregular expenditure.
The 2016/17 annual reports had been finalised and submitted. There were delays because of lack of records, centralised audits which created problems with transfers, and some of the accountants employed were trainee accountants. He informed the Committee that the 2017/18 annual reports had been signed off.
PRASA had a stringent policy of paying contractors within 30 days, although this had been challenged by bogus claims. Some of the claims had been presented before, but the genuine ones were being addressed after being confirmed.
The Ekurhuleni train component factory would be launched on 25 October, and would start a new phase in the modernisation of trains, although there were risks. These include inadequate perways for the smooth functioning of the new trains, and synchronising the delivery of the new trains into depots
The board chairperson said the exact number of jobs created by the Ekurhuleni train component factory was 635. She clarified that the 2016/17 and 2017/18 annual reports were not the reports of the new board. The claim by AGSA of instability came from the fact that there had been four boards in the past, but this claim does not reflect instability of this new board.
The Chairperson said the new board had to take ownership of the annual reports, even though it was not the administration in charge at the time, and invited the Minister to make comments.
Minister of Transport
Mr Nzimande expressed concern over the planned suspension of PRASA’s safety and operations licence by the RSR and said the case should not have gone to court, but he understood why PRASA had exercised its right to go to court. The DoT was of the view that the best way to go about the safety challenges was for the RSR to point out the safety challenges and then monitor if PRASA addressed them.
He understood the concerns of the PRASA board about stopping the contract of Werksmans Attorneys, but asked it to review other ways of handling the process of revoking the contract. He pleaded with the Committee not to sanction the PRASA board for not implementing consequence management on individuals based on investigations carried out, as certain sections of the criminal justice system were already “captured,” and did not take action as and at when it was due.
Mr M De Freitas (DA) said based on news reports, it was apparent that PRASA wanted to prevent the plan of the RSR to suspend its operating licence, but the brief presented by PRASA could not justify why its operating licence should not be suspended. During the Parliamentary recess, he had observed that PRASA could not justify the use of its infrastructure. This was evident where PRASA cables had been stolen a mere 200 meters from the Johannesburg train station because the lights were not switched on at night. The train stations were dirty and officials refused to address challenges when initially reported. Even when cameras were working, trained personnel were not available to monitor them, so perpetrators of crime were not identified because the scenes were not recorded. Also, the public announcement systems were not working and when they were working, the announcers did not speak audibly.
He said the lack of imagination of PRASA management led to delays, derailment and burnt trains. Commuters had requested PRASA board members to ride on trains, but they had refused. The investigation on corruption had continued but had not yielded results yet because PRASA’s executive had not implemented consequence management mechanisms.
He said that because PRASA did not pay small businesses on time, they had gone bankrupt. Although AGSA had outlined audit queries on PRASA’s processes, it had not addressed these queries. Management had not implemented immediate action plans to remedy the service delivery challenges, but had only implemented plans that had a time frame of 12 months.
Mr C Hunsinger (DA) said the Committee had convened the meeting to ask PRASA about its action plans to avert its service delivery problems and train accidents. Statistics showed that derailments had increased by 16% and accidents had increased by 67%. The RSR was the agency charged with preventing national risks on rail transport. In the past, it had issued 29 reports against PRASA but the truth was that PRASA did not address the challenges outlined by RSR in its reports. The RSR, in exercising its control, had therefore proposed to suspend the licence of PRASA. He disagreed with the Minister’s statement that the RSR should not have proposed suspending PRASA’s licence, as it needed to exercise its mandate and prevent a national disaster.
PRASA finds it difficult to do simple things, like changing of broken wheels on trains. It was not providing new depots to accommodate the new trains manufactured, which showed that it lacks adequate project management skills. Its back-up plans should include dispatching its buses to areas that were likely to suffer train derailments, rather than keep its buses at its depots. During a meeting in February, PRASA had insisted that cameras were working, but the group CEO had stated in August, and in the brief, that they were not working. This made it difficult to carry out forensic investigations. The Committee would not condone wilful destruction of state property, so PRASA management had to act to stop this trend by fixing the infrastructure that was broken.
Mr M Shelembe (NFP) asked what strategy PRASA was using to secure its infrastructure, and what critical positions were not yet filled in the organisation. During the brief, it had submitted that it had lost R636 million due to train fires in the last 3,5 years, but the ‘Get on track plan’ did not prioritise any solution to the challenges presently faced. He asked PRASA to state in simple terms the solutions it wanted the Committee to present to commuters, as the ‘Get on track plan’ did not give realistic timeframes to address the challenges being faced by commuters presently.
Mr Sithole said PRASA agreed with addressing the basic issues at stations, as suggested by Members. PRASA was not shy to board trains with commuters, as it recognised that it was a way of identifying the solutions to the present challenges.
TransNet had agreed to assist PRASA with replacing wheels on coaches.
Suppliers’ claims were paid when investigations showed that they were genuine, especially when such claims involved capital expenditure. He asked Members to forward any specific claim that had not being paid to enable it investigate such claims.
Before PRASA received its current licence on 29 August 2018, it had shown RSR evidence that it had addressed some of the issues, and had demonstrated ways of resolving the other challenges.
The filling of critical posts had different timeframes and these were being dealt with on a case by case basis through the human resources plan.
PRASA was mindful that it had not managed losses through the burning of trains appropriately, and was putting in place better strategies to address the situation.
It was working with TransNet to improve its skill sets and attitude of staff.
Ms Kweyama said PRASA was addressing complaints on its KZN rail routes, but it was still a work in progress.
When the RSR issued PRASA its operating licence, many of the issues it raised had been resolved, so it had issued the licence on eight conditions.
PRASA had turnaround plans for short, medium and long timeframes, but for the purposes of the brief it had highlighted only some of its turnaround plans.
The reason for not paying some contractors’ claims was a result of audit queries, and these claims had been found wanting.
Ms Jenny Schreiner. Board Member: Director, Safety, said PRASA did not have good safety and security mechanisms in the past, but these were presently being implemented. Safety performance standards had been signed with PRASA staff at all levels. The director of operations was presently addressing the transfer of assets between it and TransNet, as it had not been done appropriately in the past. The past maintenance plans were not adequate but this was being addressed. The maintenance plans also addressed safety, security and cleanliness in the station environment. The vegetation around the station environments was now being controlled to safeguard premises and control access. PRASA’s proposed academy would train security personnel for the PRASA environment. The board had taken care of back-up plans to ensure that PRASA buses were positioned at risk stations.
Mr De Freitas said he was he was confused by PRASA’s brief, because it did not explain the strategies it wanted to use to deal with its challenges on rail transport. He asked it to share its action plans that would result in solving the current problems.
Mr Sibande asked PRASA to address the Werksmans contract and the appointment of 88 armed guards who were supposed to accompany the crews at Cape Town, because these were controversial issues. Why had it not yet built the fence walls it promised to build at train stations? He asked PRASA to address the issue of lighting at terminals and also to tighten its internal and audit controls.
Mr Ramatlakane said PRASA urgently needed to attend to signalling equipment to stop the increasing accident rates. He asked it to give the Committee the complete picture on the devolution of functions. What were its concurrent plans to recover burnt or wrecked coaches? PRASA had to ensure that CCTV cameras were not only functional but were being monitored by trained personnel. He observed that PRASA did not attend to issues raised by the RSR, which indicated that the relationship between the RSR and PRASA was not working. He remarked that if TransNet had to take over the repair of perways and replace rail wheels for PRASA, then it needed to have more capacity.
The PRASA board needed to drive skill inventory issues because PRASA did not yet have competent people to engage in rail transport. It had to restore its training component. He recalled that the new executive had inherited locomotives procured by the old executive through an irregular tender. PRASA should review the contract and state its plans for the parked locomotives, as they were generating costs and they had not being put to use yet. He concluded by saying that PRASA had three pressing challenges -- the need to increase capacity, the need to empower its regions to manage challenges, and urgently to address safety and signalling needs.
Mr Mpanza asked PRASA to look at projects that could involve youths and women along the railway corridors, as this would ensure that it carried the community along. It should ensure that its communication strategy was basic, using community radios and newspapers. This would ensure that commuters did not get to the station before they found out that trains were being delayed.
Mr Hunsinger said he was placing a motion of expectation on the new PRASA board, as it had a high calibre of people, and the timing could not allow the Committee to go through another board. The new board must therefore resolve the challenges presently facing PRASA and ensure that it builds its reputation, and enable South Africans to have trust and confidence in its ability to improve rail transport.
Mr Ramatlakane said he had had the opportunity to listen to a radio programme in which the group CEO of PRASA had answered some questions on the rail transport situation. He commended the move, but said Committee and the community had more expectations from PRASA, as it needed to resolve urgent challenges.
The Chairperson said PRASA had to improve the level of integration of its infrastructure, particularly its buses, decrease the level of accidents, and improve infrastructure access and mobility, particularly in the rural areas. It was critical that PRASA ensured that it executed its promise on public transportation in an affordable, effective and efficient manner, and ensured that customer safety and security was addressed. It should also ensure that wrongdoers were dealt with while embarking on its turnaround strategies, and make sure that its public transport system was wholesome.
The President was presently securing investors, and investment would suffer if infrastructure was being destroyed by angry commuters. PRASA should therefore involve the community by way of community intelligence to ensure that security issues in railway transport were dealt with.
She said the report of the DoT on PRASA had not given the full information on the status of PRASA, yet the media had captured the information. Also, PRASA was complaining about not receiving its due share of assets when the assets were shared between it and TransNet, another entity of the DoT. This showed that the DoT was not really involved in PRASA affairs and was not doing well by an entity under its purview. The Committee would engage with the Minister for Transport on asset sharing issues of both entities.
Mr Chris Hlabisa, Acting Director General: DoT, agreed with the motion of expectation on PRASA as proposed by Mr Hunsinger. He said DoT would engage with the other DGs involved in the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster, to forge ways of addressing safety and security issues in rail transportation. He also agreed with the motion to apply community intelligence as a way of resolving security issues on trains, as mentioned by the Chairperson. The DoT would engage with the RSR and PRASA to ensure that the suspension of PRASA’s operating licence was settled out of court.
The board chairperson said PRASA would address the other concerns of the Committee in writing, and would brief it during its next meeting.
The Chairperson said it had scheduled PRASA to present its annual report, pending its early submission. The Committee would soon commence on oversight visits, so it should report on things that it had achieved. She had received a note from the Committee Secretary, and said the media were asking why the new vehicles it had bought were not operational.
Mr Sithole said PRASA had bought 300 vehicles for regional needs purposes, but when the vehicles were bought they were not equipped with a tracker. He confirmed that the vehicles were now equipped with trackers, and would soon be operational.
The Chairperson asked Mr Sithole when the vehicles had been procured.
Mr Sithole said the vehicles had been procured in November 2017 -- before the new board was inaugurated.
The Chairperson thanked the Minister for Transport and the teams from the DoT and PRASA, and reminded the PRASA executive to submit answers to the questions and concerns.
The meeting was adjourned.
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