Your money’s on the train
‘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”.