Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS
Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

The troubled Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) is set to have a permanent CEO by April, transport minister Blade Nzimande has confirmed.

Prasa, which has previously been afflicted by tender irregularities and supply-chain management issues, currently has an interim CEO and board which have been tasked with turning it around. 

The agency, which is responsible for delivering rail services, has over the years been engulfed in allegations of corruption and mismanagement. It paid billions of rand to the controversial Siyaya Rail Solutions from 2014 to 2017.

Siyaya, a goods and rail services provider, received more than R5bn in deals from Prasa, with some of the deals being flagged as corrupt. This as the country’s rail services continue to flounder, with Cape Town rail lines being the hardest hit.

In a written reply to a question from DA MP Chris Hunsinger published last week, Nzimande said the Prasa board and the shareholder had  from June 1 2018 appointed an interim CEO for  12 months whilst the process of appointing a permanent CEO is under way and is envisaged to be completed by April 2019. 

“The process being undertaken to identify a suitable group CEO will be through an open and transparent process of recruitment that would be undertaken through the recruitment policy of Prasa. This process will be undertaken through the position being advertised and the board overseeing the recruitment and selection process,” the minister said.

Nzimande has been on a drive to address the dysfunction at some of the entities that report to him, particularly Prasa and the cash-strapped Road Accident Fund (RAF).

In 2018, the minister said the board was interrogating various contracts Prasa had entered into, some of which were questionable, and he had called on the board to take urgent action and challenge these contracts in court. He also said he had tasked the board with identifying, within the next 12 months more issues that needed attention.

“One of the things I [noticed when I came in] was that the board did not adequately defend Prasa for cases that came before it. That is one of the reasons I saw [Prasa] as an ATM … people would make claims and the [previous] board [would not] dispute them,” Nzimande told MPs in 2018.

Earlier in January the Rail Safety Regulator (RSR) criticised Prasa following a collision between two Metrorail trains at the Mountainview station, north of Pretoria, in which four people died and more than 200 were injured.

The regulator has issued several safety contravention notices to Prasa in recent years. In October 2018, it suspended Prasa’s safety permit following a collision in Kempton Park in which 320 people were injured.

Prasa challenged the suspension in court, but an out-of-court settlement was reached, and the suspension was lifted. This avoided a countrywide shutdown of SA’s passenger rail system.

with Neels Blom

phakathib@businesslive.co.za