Editorial: R70m for Prasa investigation is off the rails

The rail agency was criticised for buying locomotives that were too tall and costly. (Deon Raath/Die Burger/Gallo)

The rail agency was criticised for buying locomotives that were too tall and costly. (Deon Raath/Die Burger/Gallo)

Questions have rightfully been raised about why R70-million needs to be spent on a forensic investigation into the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) scandal. For many years, Prasa was seen as one of the less troubled state-owned entities, quietly going about its business of getting hard-working South Africans to work each day.

But then someone ordered billions of rands’ worth of trains that were too tall for our rail network. And we saw how those entrusted with the purse strings at this big-budget agency had allowed it to slide into one of the biggest corruption scandals in South Africa today.

It has become clear, too, that the engineers of dodgy deals and the looters of state coffers had time to cover their tracks. Some have jumped ship. Crucial documents have vanished.

Now a team of investigators from a private law firm has the almost impossible task of piecing together basic information. Questions as simple as how key appointments were made appear to be amazingly difficult to answer, in the absence of proper records or proof that due process was followed.

  As Prasa chair Popo Molefe reveals this week, the state entity spent R30-million on some of those ill-equipped and unqualified people, among them people who share culpability for the mess engulfing the entity today.

The investigators have already uncovered dirty deals in excess of R12-billion. As taxpayers, we should be angry. But we should also be relieved that Prasa is conducting a thorough investigation of its affairs.

We may be appalled by the huge amount being spent on this investigation, but something has to be done. We hope it can stand firm against the influential people who would be keen not to see this case reach the courts.

The effect of corruption on the functioning of the state and on the lives of South African citizens is too devastating for us to ignore and to let those responsible for this mess get away with a slap on the wrist.

 

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