PRASA vs Siyangena: #UniteBehind joins court case to force rail agency to fight for billions of rands

PRASA doesn’t even have a law firm to represent it in huge upcoming legal battle

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Photo of Fikile Mbalula
#UniteBehind is at odds with the way Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula is running PRASA. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Commuter activist group #UniteBehind has filed an application with the North Gauteng High Court in an attempt to compel the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) to hire new attorneys or reappoint its previous attorneys. The application was lodged on 14 February.

PRASA’s previous attorneys, Werksmans, withdrew its services on 14 January 2020 after PRASA failed to pay the firm outstanding fees of about R19 million.

A critical court case is scheduled to take place on 24 February. Siyangena Technologies is attempting to compel PRASA to pay billions of outstanding fees, after PRASA has already paid approximately R3 billion to the company. The Public Protector found in 2015 that contracts awarded to Siyangena by PRASA, tallying up to nearly R5 billion, constitute “maladministration and improper conduct”. The Public Protector’s report can be read here.

#UniteBehind is trying to join this court case as a friend of the court.

In the court application #UniteBehind secretariat member Zackie Achmat writes: “#UniteBehind has sought, without success, to ascertain PRASA’s attitude to this litigation and clarity as to its intention to instruct new attorneys.”

The application further reads that PRASA has given no indication on how it plans to proceed with the Siyangena matter without attorney representation.

“There is, therefore, a risk that the main application will simply be dismissed, that the irregular expenditure of nearly R5 billion in public funds will not be properly ventilated, and that no amount of these funds will be recouped to the public purse,” the application reads.

Earlier this month #UniteBehind lodged an application to the Western Cape High Court that seeks to revoke the Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula’s decision to appoint Bongisizwe Mpondo as the Administrator of PRASA for a twelve-month period, without any oversight. #UniteBehind claims that this appointment is unlawful.

#UniteBehind wants this case to be ruled upon before the Siyangena matter is finalised.

PRASA has also announced the appointment of a technical panel of advisors that would assist Mpondo with “critical technical expertise”.

Among the six advisors appointed to PRASA’s technical board is Themba Camane, who was involved in the Siyangena tender deal. In its most recent court application, #UniteBehind wrote that it was “gravely worrying”, amongst other things, that “a person who was himself involved in approving the impugned Siyangena contracts was appointed as a technical advisor”.

GROUNDVIEW: PRASA is not getting better

By GroundUp Editors

In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said:

We are modernising PRASA’s rail network.

The Central Line in the Western Cape and the Mabopane Line in Pretoria have been closed for essential refurbishment and upgrades.

We are investing R1.4 billion in each of these lines to provide, a safe, reliable and affordable service.

Work underway on other lines includes station upgrades, parkway replacements, new signalling systems and overhead electrical traction upgrades.

We are deeply sceptical.

Some GroundUp staff regularly try to use Metrorail and we frequently interview commuters. There is no sign that Metrorail is improving. Cape Town’s Central line has been broken for months, and the other lines are dysfunctional. Thieves steal cable with impunity. Even Capetonians who don’t use the trains feel the effects of the broken train system on the city’s increasingly congested roads during ever longer rush-hours.

PRASA was a mess and had to be placed under administration. But Minister Fikile Mbalula has failed to address concerns that his appointment of an Administrator, Bongisizwe Mpondo, was unlawful. Even worse, Mpondo’s appointment of Themba Camane to his advisory team cannot be justified. Camane was one of the signatories supporting the extension of a contract with Siyangena that was specifically criticised by the Public Protector.

That PRASA has failed to pay its lawyers ahead of a vital court case involving huge amounts of money is a very serious crisis. It is also suspicious. We have to ask: Are there senior managers in PRASA who would benefit from PRASA losing this case? We truly hope the answer to that question is no.

Minister Mbalula is not someone with a track record of fixing anything. It’s hard therefore to have confidence in the president’s SONA promises about PRASA.

TOPICS:  Prasa / Metrorail

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