Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi defended the Passenger Rail Agency of SA’s (Prasa) interim board before Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport on Tuesday, and signaled that he would be closing in on the Werksmans Attorneys probe into corruption there.
Prasa was the worst-performing parastatal in the 2015-16 financial year and the agency was unable to table its 2016-17 annual report to Parliament ahead of the late September deadline. The absence of Prasa’s board at the meeting — with the exception of the minister, a shareholder representative — irked committee members.
Werksmans was appointed to investigate the scale of mismanagement unearthed in former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report, Derailed. The firm has since gotten R150m and National Treasury is now investigating 130 contracts worth a minimum of R10m.
However, the internal dynamics at the agency soon came to the fore when the minister responded to questions from the committee’s members, who used to be his colleagues during his days as an MP.
When committee member for the DA Manny de Freitas challenged the minister on why Prasa still had no permanent board, Maswanganyi rebuffed him, saying that the current board was capable and qualified to maintain leadership at Prasa. “The interim board is an interim board. A full board will be appointed on a permanent basis when the time is appropriate. Give the board time to do its work,” said Maswanganyi.
When De Freitas asked why Werksmans was not being allowed to continue its investigations, which, he said, led to a recovery of R2bn, Maswaganyi disputed De Freitas’s figures and said the department could not justify spending R150m on an “irregularly appointed service provider”.
Committee member for the ANC Goodwill Radebe said the Werksmans’ work was “a waste of money” and that the Prasa interim board should preoccupy itself with the core function of delivering and maintaining passenger rail infrastructure.
“It makes no sense to take the money meant for fixing trains and maintaining them and give it to a legal firm,” he said. “Don’t waste money. Why are you wasting money? This is the capture of the state we are talking about where people in Parliament want to secure more business for private interests.”
Maswanganyi said that while the acting group CEO did not have the powers to decide on monies procured by Prasa, projects would continue, including the Western Cape investment of R8bn to improve the rail network and security of Prasa property there.