Prasa chairman Popo Molefe insisted that financial officer Hunadi Manyatsa attend the hearing. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Popo Molefe. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

THE Passenger Rail Agency of SA’s (Prasa) financial officer Hunadi Manyatsa had a "psychological" condition, had bunked work for several months and was unstable, Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) heard on Tuesday.

This was revealed when Prasa, led by board chairman Popo Molefe, appeared before Scopa to account for a number of transactions considered wasteful or irregular by the auditor-general. These included the purchase of oversized passenger trains.

The group had a torrid time in Parliament on Tuesday and struggled to answer probing questions from members of the committee.

Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said the board had over the years failed to co-operate with her and it was difficult to get information about the organisation.

Sniffing blood, MPs put the officials under pressure, with Mnyamezeli Booi from the African National Congress accusing acting CEO Nathi Khena of misleading the committee. "As acting (CEO) you are misleading us again. Can you please give us the details ... these are not your finances, not your wife’s finances, they belong to the public."

Mr Khena told the committee that Ms Manyatsa had been intimidated by a service provider and was "unstable". Mr Molefe said he had been informed that Ms Manyatsa had become "erratic", was a victim of intimidation at the hands of a service provider, and had a "psychological illness".

She had stayed away from work and blown the 36 sick days she got in a leave cycle, and then spent seven months working from home. She only returned to work three weeks ago but had not availed herself to travel with the management team to Parliament, despite Mr Molefe personally insisting she does.

The MPs were incensed with the poor responses from the Prasa side and eventually gave the officials two weeks to come up with detailed responses. They need to come up with a status report with details of the irregular expenditure incurred during the financial year under review, report on the issues regarding the chief financial officer, provide a comprehensive update on all the corruption-related investigations handled by Prasa and crime fighting agencies, and another detailed list of all disciplinary processes under way.

During the four-hour meeting, Prasa’s managers struggled with penetrating questions from MPs — mostly demanding basic facts.

At one stage, Vincent Smith of the ANC agitated for the officials to be given time to go and make a phone call so they could get all the details they did not have, and then report back to the committee.

The MPs were especially shocked that an attendance register could not be provided for the meetings which discussed the bids that led to the controversial locomotives contract.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found the company had a culture of "systemic failure" where supply-chain rules were not followed. The agency is now involved in a legal attempt to cancel a R3.5bn contract awarded to Swifambo Rail Leasing in March 2013 to supply the locomotives, which were made in Spain.

One of the irregular developments flagged by the auditor-general, and raised again by the committee on Tuesday, was an unsolicited bid proposal of R91m, about which Prasa did not inform the Treasury, in contravention of public finance laws.

The parastatal also incurred R19.9m in fruitless expenditure, which included interest and penalties on late payment of creditors.

It also had to pay back an executive who was fired "unprocedurally" and had to be reinstated with benefits. The board now wanted former CEO Lucky Montana, under whose stewardship this happened, to pay the legal fees Prasa incurred in fighting the labour matter in court.