Fixing the train smash that was Prasa

Fixing the train smash that was Prasa
JOHANNESBURG - Newly-appointed Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) administrator Bongisizwe Mpondo has vowed to put an end to the state-owned gravy train as he works to restore the rail agency to its former glory.

In December Prasa was placed into administration for 12 months. Mpondo was brought to Prasa last month after Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula lost confidence in the acting board, led by chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama, due to serious governance breaches.

Mpondo in an interview yesterday decried the bad attitude from some of Prasa’s top employees, who do not wish the status quo at the entity to change.

Talking frankly from his office, Mpondo said he had to work doubly hard to make changes as some executives were still loyal to the previous leadership, which was fired in December.

Mpondo said: “We need to be in a very different mode of operating, and ensure that even those that are supposed to lead in the company must be able to lead and not be distracting from the task at hand.

"You do get that. You get a sense that not everyone is necessarily committed.

"The majority certainly are, but there are those with this negative mindset.”

Mpondo added, “You sit with executives who say at exco meetings ‘we have always budgeted for a deficit’. What I have picked up that it has been happening in the past few years and it is unacceptable. It has become a norm here to budget for a deficit. If we accept such things we might as well go the route of SAA.”

Prasa has lost billions of rand in the recent past as deviations, expansions, and irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure escalated.

In the year to the end of March 2019 Prasa incurred a deficit in revenue of R1.7 billion from a R1.4bn surplus the previous year.

In his 2019 report, the auditor-general flagged this runaway expenditure and gave the rail agency a disclaimer opinion.

In his first media engagement last week, Mpondo said Prasa was a broken business that had experienced systematic erosion of value and that it was fertile ground for non-performers and wrong doers.

Mpondo said the way to fix Prasa was by implementing a general overhaul of its rolling stock and revamping its train stations.

He also said Prasa had to spend its capital budget adequately, collect enough fare revenue and keep operating expenses lower than revenue.

Mpondo said the legacy of inadequate operating practices, such as signing irregular contracts, should come to an end.

“Even now we still have to arrest the decline because it is still happening,” Mpondo said.

“We have to put drastic measures in place to ensure that we don’t go beyond a particular point. If you are not awake to how grave the situation is, then you can kiss the company goodbye.”

Mpondo has extensive experience in the fields of transportation planning, development planning, project management and strategy development.

“It’s been quite hectic in terms of trying to assess the state of the business in a very short space of time."