Government slammed for buying unsuitable locomotives

The government has been harshly criticised by opposition parties for the “reckless” use of taxpayers’ funds to purchase locomotives they say are unsuitable for South African railway lines.

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) recently imported 13 brand new diesel locomotives to the value of R600 million which are part of a larger order of 70 locomotives valued at of R3.5 billion from Spanish manufacturer Vossloh Espaa.

On Sunday‚ the Democratic Party (DA)‚ Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party and Congress of the People (Cope) party all called for an investigation into the procurement of the locomotives‚ saying they were unsuitable for South African railway tracks.

According to DA spokesman on transport matters‚ Manny de Freitas‚ before the locomotives arrived in the country‚ senior railway engineers warned Prasa that they were too high for the local railway lines on long distance routes for which they are intended.

The new trains have a roof height of 4‚264mm while the maximum height for diesel locomotives for local use may not exceed 3‚965mm‚ according to De Freitas.

“Engineers say the locomotives could damage the overhead electrical cables on the country’s rail lines‚” he said.

He asserted that Prasa had misled Parliament on the dimensions of the new locomotives.

Earlier this year‚ De Freitas added‚ the DA had submitted a question in Parliament to transport minister Dipuo Peters‚ asking why the locomotives ordered differed in dimension from the requirements.

The minister had replied that “the new locomotives are not different in any form…the new locomotives are within the required scale”.

“Clearly the minister has misled Parliament and been loose with the truth with regard to the dimensions of the new trains‚” De Freitas said in a statement.

He added that the DA would approach the Speaker of the National Assembly to request that she take action against Peters for providing incorrect information in her reply.

“I will also write to the minister to request that she make public the documents pertaining to the tender for these trains‚ in the interests of transparency and openness.”

The DA believed that government must at all times act in the best interests of all South Africans‚ especially when spending tax payers’ hard earned money‚ De Freitas said.

“By ordering trains that do not fit on our country’s train tracks‚ Prasa has acted recklessly and without proper and due consideration‚” he added.

In a statement on Sunday‚ the EFF condemned the government for what it called the “reckless use of taxpayers’ funds” in the procurement of the “defective” locomotives‚ the arrival of which‚ it added‚ had been welcomed with pomp and ceremony by the transport minister.

 “The EFF is concerned and disturbed by serious disregard of prudent management of taxpayers funds by the Department of Transport and its related entities like PRASA. We have reason to suspect that bribes may have been exchanged in the cheerful procurement of these ‘defective’ locomotives from a company that was found guilty of price collusion in Germany in 2012.”

The EFF called for the CEO of Prasa‚ Lucky Montana‚ to be suspended without pay while a full investigation was undertaken into the matter. 

“The minister must also immediately suspend all these contracts of defective locomotives which are not locally manufactured. This procurement of foreign manufactured locomotives not only is a waste of taxpayers’ funds but also makes a complete farce of the ANC government’s claim to be promoting localisation of production‚ beneficiation and industrialisation‚” the party asserted.

It added that it would request the Public Protector to investigate whether these contracts awarded by Prasa to the Vossloh Group were improper and in violation of the provisions of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act‚ 2004‚ and whether any government official or Prasa official had benefited improperly and unlawfully from the awarding of these contracts.

“The EFF wishes to reiterate its zero-tolerance stance against corruption‚ whether in government or the private sector. Officials who are guilty of any unlawful or improper conduct and who steal from the poor must face the full might of law.”

Cope spokesman Dennis Bloem questioned why Prasa had “wilfully” ignored explicit warnings given to it about the unsuitability of the Spanish-manufactured diesel locomotives.

“Was it because of sheer arrogance? Or was it because of the bag that someone might have passed under the table?” Bloem challenged.

“Questions will inevitably abound. If the imported locomotives are too high by about 30 centimetres‚ will the diesel locomotives stand in the rail yards‚ unused‚ like buses in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro or imported tractors that met a similar fate?

“Indeed‚ there are serious legal and career consequences for all those who acted in defiance of explicit warnings and rules. The media drew our attention to the pronouncement by the auditor general‚ last year‚ that Prasa had flouted its own tender regulations when it awarded the contract to Swifambo Rail Leasing. What was messy to begin with is getting even messier‚” Bloem asserted.

“On top of that warning‚” he said‚ “Prasa ignored the warnings of the engineers also. They had pointed out‚ we understand‚ that the height of the trains rendered them unsuitable for South African use. Prasa‚ notwithstanding that explicit warning‚ persisted in going ahead. Surely‚ the height of any vehicle is always a primary consideration.

“If these diesel locomotives are not suitable for the long distance routes‚ Prasa wanted to use them on‚ what happens to the R600 million that PRASA already spent? Is this government and parastatals never going to get a single big contract right?

“It is so ironic that in January this year‚ the Minister of Transport unveiled the diesel locomotives at the harbour in Cape Town with such fanfare. This‚ she promised‚ was the beginning of a new era in public transport. From what we are now learning‚ this is going to be a damp squib? The country has egg on its face.

“COPE calls on the Minister of Finance‚ Nhlanhla Nene as well as the Minister of Transport‚ Diphoyo Peters‚ to launch an immediate and full investigation into this matter. We will certainly want the Ministers to come before parliament to account for yet another giant cock-up‚ if the allegations are true.”

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