Zondo makes inquiry into SA’s passenger rail’s collapse

Despite dedicating 250 pages to wrongdoing and failures at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), commission chair Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said that “much about the ills at Prasa has not yet been uncovered”.

The final report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture has recommended that a new probe be instituted to get to the bottom of why SA’s state-run passenger rail agency was allowed to “slide into almost total ruin”.

Comair, the South African partner of British Airways and owner of low-cost carrier Kulula, applied for liquidation earlier this month after running out of funds. The group accounted for 40% of domestic air trips in South Africa and a number of international routes.

“The market has lost about 9,000 seats a week,” Kirby Gordon, chief marketing officer at FlySafair, said in a statement. Adding new planes “will help to plug this gap.”

Experts have warned that the closure of Comair will have a marked effect on South Africa – both in the transport and hospitality sectors.

Tourism Business Council South Africa chief executive Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa said the drop in flight capacity will lead to increased bottlenecks as fewer people opt to fly domestically and instead opt to drive.

These capacity issues will extend to the domestic airlines which are still operating in South Africa, with these groups needing regulatory approval from the Air Serving Council and government to increase the number of flights and operate flights to new destinations, he said.

“I worry that if I do not make a general recommendation about these matters, it is unlikely that Prasa will recover.”

Zondo handed over five and six parts of the state capture report to President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday.

“Having given anxious consideration to the issues, I have decided that a special commission of inquiry should be appointed to examine specifically the following matters: why Prasa was allowed to slide into almost total ruin, who should be held responsible for that and who cold have benefited from that unacceptable state of affairs, ”he said.

Shady contracts

Much of the testimony related to Prasa, heard during the inquiry, involved two controversial contracts that the rail group entered into with companies Swifambo and Siyangena.

The Swifambo contract, concluded in March 2013, entailed purchasing 70 locomotives from a company called Swifambo Rail Leasing for R3.5 billion.

Zondo concluded that Swifambo contact was “so flawed” that it must have been apparent to “any reasonable person” that it was corrupt right from the start. The contact was halted by a high court application and the company later liquidated.

The Siyangena contract refers to a tender won by electronic security systems group Siyangena Technologies to install integrated security systems at rail stations. The initial budget for the contract was R517 million, but later ballooned after it was extended. The contract was set aside by a high court ruling in October of 2020.

While the Hawks are already investigating the Siyagena and Swifambo contracts, Zondo urged the president to take steps to ensure that they be finalized as soon as possible.

He also asked that the National Director of Public Prosecutions immediately start putting together teams to prosecute wrongdoers.

The chief justice also recommended that numerous top officials and members of the Prasa’s former board be investigated, including its former CEO Lucky Montana.

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