The State Capture Commission can save our trains

Watch closely. The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture is still ongoing. They will begin to investigate the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). The Commission began its work in August 2018 but does not seem to be heading to a halt any time soon, almost two years later. Perhaps, allegations of corruption have been far too broad in South Africa for a brief commission.

This is certainly the case for PRASA. The focus is currently on this agency which is in a disastrous state. Corruption Watch published a brief summary of some of its corruption scandals, which includes irregular awarding of tenders, billions of rand in wasted or irregular expenditure and gross incompetence. These and more allegations will be investigated by the Commission.

But that is, metaphorically, just a drop of the ocean of allegations against PRASA. In fact, there is just way too much evidence for any person to reasonably parse through. Media organisation, Ground Up, released a series of 5 reports, with accompanying articles under the heading “#PRASALeaks.” They were provided these reports from civil society organisation, Unite Behind. Previously, the Office of the Public Protector also released a report on the agency.

Meanwhile, Unite Behind has also campaigned for greater commuter accountability and oversight boards, improved communication for commuters on delays and other information, greater security on trains, investigation of corruption, and great collaboration with municipalities for co-management of municipal train networks. These are a mouthful of issues, which are explained neatly on their website.

The national focus now is squarely on corruption allegations. Unpacking these allegations is a massive task given the sheer quantity of them.

Rig, Conceal, Destroy and Falsify

These four words mark the title of a Unite Behind report submitted to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Portfolio Committee on Finance compiled in December 2017. This report focuses mostly on Cape Town’s Metrorail (PRASA’s main subsidiary), opening with a grief overview of its many failures:

This year close to 500 passengers have died and over 2000 have been injured according to the Railway Safety Regulator. Beyond this terrible cost of lives, such accidents and crime costs railway operators almost a billion rand (R961 million). Almost all passengers routinely suffer physical and psychological harm. It is estimated that 43% of former passengers (~248 500) have stopped using Metrorail in the Western Cape over the past four years. On average over 73% of trains are late and around 7% of all trains are cancelled. However, up to 57% of trains have been cancelled during certain weeks on the Central Line, with an overall 400% increase in train cancellations in the Western Cape between 2015 and 2017.

Rig, Conceal, Destroy and Falsify: How State Capture Happened at PRASA.

The report summarises its major findings as:

  • Sifiso Buthelezi, currently the Chairperson at Standing Committee on Appropriations, is complicit in criminal collusion and negligence from when he was chair of the PRASA Board. He was previously the Deputy Minister of Finance.
  • Associates of former president Jacob Zuma benefitted from irregularly obtained contracts.
  • Various Ministers of Transport (Ben Martins, Dipuo Peters and Joe Maswanganyi) were aware of allegations of corruption and mismanagement, which they ignored. Peters and Maswanganyi also obstructed justice.
  • There was R6 billion of questionable expenditure
  • Records were not kept. “Information, documents and data were either missing altogether, misplaced, possibly destroyed or not made available to the auditors.” This is worrying because as the report states, “Without an audit trail there is the ability to syphon public funds and resources with impunity.”
  • Tender processes did not include needs analyses which allowed for risk of non-delivery or “shoddy work”. Tender processes were also manipulated.
  • There was little accountability for “leaders of the criminal enterprise” while staff members were dismissed.
  • The Auditor-General and the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport failed to detect systemic corruption. The Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation (the Hawks) and the National Prosecuting Authority also failed to act.

Why has nothing happened?

With so much evidence against PRASA, the critical question is to consider why nothing has happened. None of the corrupt leaders, including members of government, have been held accountable. The simple answer is none of the oversight bodies have been effective.

South Africa’s latest Public Protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, is challenging the report of her predecessor. A senior award-winning journalist was reported to have been implicated. The above-mentioned report showed failure’s from South Africa’s official investigative and prosecutor offices.

The only organisations working to expose the truth have been civil society organisations and select media organisations. But these organisations can only expose the truth. They are not empowered to hold anyone accountable.

That is why our only hope is the State Capture Commission. This commission, as per it’s Terms of Reference is primarily to compile a report. It may also submit findings for prosecution. However, the commission has attracted the attention of the country, receives constant media attention and appears to be taken quite seriously. Already, many of the implicated parties, such as The New Age newspaper and even the former President, Jacob Zuma have seen their power wane. Already, mainstream media is reporting on Sifiso Buthelezi, likely the most senior implicated person.

Oversight bodies have more pressure to take allegations seriously and implicated parties have the incentive to get ahead of prosecution by being forthcoming to the commission, as was seen with Bosasa’s Angelo Agrizzi.

The evidence is clear. The commission is more effective than previous efforts and oversight bodies. So, we must watch closely. Soon, the efforts of civil society and media will start addressing the rife culture of mismanagement at PRASA.

There could be no better time with national attention focused on the Taxi Strike and a looming public transport crisis. We need trains to function. They need to be safe, well-managed, run-on-time, and transport commuters. The commission is the first step in ensuring this.

5 thoughts on “The State Capture Commission can save our trains

        1. Wow. That’s odd. I just checked on multiple devices and the article is still up.

          I tried to search what the issue might be but didn’t find much. Do the other articles on the site show up for you?

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