Prasa bleeds as theft hits archaic rail system

Jenni Evans, News24

Cape Town - The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) incurred a R1bn loss for the 2014/2015 financial year as the country's "archaic" rail system suffered from vandalism and theft.

Prasa acting CEO Nathi Khena said the railway parastatal was "seriously, seriously impacted" and explained to Parliament it had taken time for the agency to react; sort out its rolling stock and upgrade technology and infrastructure.

Khena, who was hastily installed after former CEO Lucky Montana was unceremoniously removed from the position in July, has had a bumpy ride in the past few months as the agency also grapples with tender irregularity allegations.

''We are seeing the negative impact of the challenges. We inherited old locomotives and they are seriously failing us and impact us filling the required level of service to our customers,'' he told parliament's transport committee while presenting Prasa's audited results for the financial year.
Briefings of this nature ensure government agencies account to members of parliament (MPs) and for recommendations to be potentially forwarded to the national treasury for inclusion in next year's budget. MPs ask questions after the presentations.

Prasa's mandate is to deliver a commuter rail service and long-haul rail and bus service, but it has recently limped from scandal to scandal. The most significant was the multi-million-rand investment into trains too high for the South African railway system and the sacking of chief engineer Daniel Mtimkulu, who allegedly pretended to have the qualifications to order them from Spain.

Khena added the government had seen the need to help the agency and would spend R172bn, including R59bn on rolling stock, over the next 10 years.

Compounding the problems, Khena said fare evasion ranged between 15% and 25% with passengers taking the gap at unfenced stations. Security at stations was another rising concern.

On Tuesday, a man shot himself at Cape Town's busy station concourse in a mysterious incident in which he wore the religious clothing of Muslim women. A second person present while the shots were fired at the station, was still at large.

Khena said there was also no clarity on the level at which Prasa could subside passenger rail transport.

He suggested cable theft should be categorised as a serious economic crime with the appropriate penalties.
''If you look at the impact of what they are doing to the economy of this country, it is quite significant compared to the slap on the hand they normally get,'' Khena said.