Your money’s on the train

CityPress - - Voices -

‘Nkaaandla!” That is how the pres­i­dent dis­misses the na­tional ob­ses­sion with the R250 mil­lion worth – and count­ing – in ren­o­va­tions to his ru­ral pres­i­den­tial es­tate funded by the public purse.

Strictly speak­ing, if you go by the num­bers alone, he is cor­rect – that spend­ing is a drop in the ocean com­pared with where the real ac­tion is hap­pen­ing with public money – on the train.

Over the next 20 years, pas­sen­ger rail agency Prasa will buy 7 224 coaches at a cost of R123 bil­lion. That’s right. R123 bil­lion. It’s pots of money and honey bees are buzzing around. The fight be­tween Prasa’s for­mer CEO, Lucky Mon­tana, and board chair­per­son Popo Molefe is prob­a­bly part of the sting in this tale.

City Press’ sis­ter ti­tle, Rap­port, has re­ported ex­ten­sively about how Mon­tana al­legedly per­son­ally ben­e­fited from dodgy deal­ings with con­trac­tors, while the trains from Voss­loh are not suf­fi­ciently cus­tomised for our rail sys­tems. And, as the pur­chase was made through Swifambo Rail Leas­ing, pay­ment was way more than stip­u­lated, Busi­ness Day re­ported this week.

We, the public, are los­ing mil­lions while the man­darins make hay. Re­ports sug­gest that all that is hap­pen­ing on the board now is that new man­darins want to take Mon­tana’s place to eat a lit­tle honey too.

The media has some – but not suf­fi­cient – ca­pa­bil­ity to fol­low the money on these huge con­tracts and en­sure the laud­able pur­pose of mod­ernising the rail sys­tem is car­ried out ef­fi­ciently and in the public in­ter­est. Sub­con­tracts run into mil­lions of rands and the grant­ing of these hap­pens out­side public purview.

The rail pro­cure­ment is pos­si­bly the most com­plex mat­ter South Africa has ever en­gaged in, but in­for­ma­tion flows are opaque. Mon­tana dis­missed ev­ery at­tempt at en­sur­ing bet­ter ac­count­abil­ity as this tal­ented ac­tivist and tech­no­crat swelled with self­im­por­tance but failed to see how an im­por­tant public ser­vice was be­ing cor­rupted. It is good that he has left, for he be­came ar­ro­gant – but do not for a mo­ment be­lieve the board will act only in the public in­ter­est. Politi­cians on Fri­day threw a dragnet over the af­fair stop­ping public pro­nounce­ments.

Only the public can act in the public in­ter­est. Civil so­ci­ety must in­sist on max­i­mum trans­parency to en­sure ev­ery cent is tracked and con­trac­tors are made public. Ei­ther that or it will go the way of “Nkaaandla”.

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