There were so many investigations by different service providers into corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) that government could not keep track, Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi told MPs on Tuesday.
“There are so many investigations there, some we don’t even know what they are doing,” Maswanganyi said while briefing Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport which has been tasked with probing allegations of state capture at PRASA – the state-owned rail agency.
Without going into specifics, the minister said reports by National Treasury and private attorneys on investigations as ordered by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela after finding former PRASA chief executive Lucky Montana and officials guilty of financial mismanagement, were still outstanding.
The appointment of Werskmans Attorneys, appointed by the former PRASA board, led to a heated debate between the minister, his colleagues in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and opposition Democratic Alliance MP Manny de Freitas.
De Freitas defended the appointment of Werksmans, saying while the bill for the private firm’s services was R148-million and counting, it was justified as it had recovered at least R2 billion following its probe and was a “good return”.
Maswanganyi rubbished this.
“There is no R2-billion that has been recovered. There is no cover up,” countered the minister.
“Why do you want us to continue to use the services of a company appointed irregularly? If you are a corruption buster but you want to defend irregularly appointed service provider, that is double standards.”
ANC MPs wanted to know if services were actually being provided to commuters, thousands of whom are left stranded on a daily basis because of train delays or cancellations, when officials were focussing on probes.
Maswanganyi said a turnaround plan had been crafted and will be provided to Parliament.
PRASA is currently engaged in several court battles. Earlier this year, a high court ruled a tender process to provide new locomotives to the state-owned company was rigged to favour Swifambo Rail Leasing – the middle man between PRASA and the Spanish manufacturer of the trains. Werksmans, on behalf of PRASA, issued a letter to Swifambo demanding back R2.6-billion. Swifambo is appealing the ruling.
In another court battle, the former board had gone to court to compel the police’s specialised unit, the Hawks, to fast-track its probe into corruption at PRASA.
Maswanganyi told MPs reports on investigations by National Treasury into over 100 PRASA contracts suspected to be irregular would be provided to MPs when available.