Prasa 'people's train'. Picture: GCIS
Prasa 'people's train'. Picture: GCIS

On Friday, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Unite Behind and Equal Education applied for an urgent interdict in the Western Cape High Court to have the Passenger Rail Agency of SA’s (Prasa) decision to terminate corruption investigations in the utility declared unlawful.

Justifying the legal intervention, Unite Behind’s organising secretary Zackie Achmat said the members of Unite Behind and Equal Education "had a direct interest in rooting out corruption and state capture at all levels, and specifically in Prasa, because it is not only unlawful but corruption impacts most egregiously on the fundamental rights of our members, their families, communities and the economy". The application was postponed on Friday to February 19 2018.

Unite Behind represents a number of NGOs and civil society organisations.

Achmat said in his founding affidavit that Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi’s appointment of a Prasa interim board in October this year was also unlawful and unconstitutional, as there was no provision in the Legal Succession to the South African Transport Services Act for the appointment of such an interim board. The interim board was also not fully constituted as it should have 11 members, but only six were appointed.

The decisions of the board were therefore not only unlawful but in themselves unreasonable and irrational, the NGOs said.

In particular, Achmat said, implementation of the "ill-informed" decision of the interim board to immediately suspend the work of the legal panel involved in investigating and litigating corruption should be interdicted.

He also asked for an interdict against the implementation of the decision that any legal services related to investigations had to be procured through supply-chain management processes in consultation with the chairperson of the board of control.

Werksmans Attorneys, which has been deeply involved in the corruption investigations and in litigation, was on the legal panel. Terminating its mandate would undermine the advances made so far, Achmat argued in court papers.

He said the applicants had a "well-founded" fear that the interim board’s resolutions "were aimed at achieving a situation whereby the litigation was suspended, the instructions were withdrawn from the attorneys representing Prasa in the litigation, their fees and disbursements paid to recover all the confidential investigation reports and documents, and to keep these reports from being disclosed in court".

"If the resolution is implemented, the consequences from the point of view of fighting corruption and preventing Prasa’s exposure to fruitless and wasteful expenditure are dire," Achmat said. "The harm that will be caused if these investigations and litigation are not able to continue will be immense."

The previous Prasa board, under the chairmanship of Popo Molefe (removed in March) launched investigations into allegations of corruption, criminal conduct and other irregularities arising out of the reports of former public protector Thuli Madonsela and the Auditor-General.

Contracts worth about R9bn were under the spotlight due to the failure to follow supply-chain management processes, and criminal matters were reported to the Hawks. Achmat said the Hawks had failed to investigate them fully, resulting in Prasa instituting legal proceedings in the North Gauteng High Court for an order directing the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority to take action

Maswanganyi and the interim board were cited as the defendants in the interdict.