As the year wound to an end Mbalula found himself the subject of derision. Again. Dressed in a black, Nigerian- styled agbada the minister of transport dutifully answered questions about aviation at an air show when, thrown a fluff question at the end, he proceeded to play the part as only Razzmatazz can.
The blowback was immediate with some calling for his head. Ultimately, it’s the actions of the incumbent that counts and, 24 hours after the critique, Mbalula changed the narrative.
After having been afforded 20 months to address the crisis at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), Mbalula has pulled the plug on the interim board and its acting chief executive and placed the ailing rail regulator under administration. Rather late than never, but there still seems to be no clear plan for how Prasa will be turned around and promises to Parliament of a new chief executive now appear to be in limbo.
This is the same Prasa that the former minister, Blade Nzimande, once referred to as an ATM, and staff from the auditor general’s office received death threats for apparently jeopardising individuals’ Christmas bonuses.
This ministry essentially deals with anything that moves — planes, trains and vehicles.
For the financial year ending March 2019, the auditor general stated that, along with the department of health, transport accounted for the greatest amount of irregular expenditure, which now stands north of R61-billion.
The auditor general found “material misstatements” in the department’s financial reporting, which is the subject of two internal investigations, five by law enforcement agencies, one by the Special Investigating Unit and four by the public protector.
It’s not only crooks that have left the department limping, it’s also inefficiencies, such as the ever-ballooning bill from the Road Accident Fund, which has a huge debt.
A new chief executive has been seconded and a permanent board appointed, which, along with the tabled Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bill, “will transform the fund and curb the excessive debt”, said Mbalula.
Always one for catchy names, one seemingly straight from Luthuli House is “the War Room”, which was set up by the minister to help to deal with Prasa.
Aside from the ineffective board and dodgy management, there’s also the frustrating delays or no-shows that rail commuters have had to deal with.
“The morning peak at the start of the War Room was 49% and by the end of the 14th week, on-time performance had increased to 63% … the 85% target is for the end of the year. We are well on track towards the achievement of the target,” the minister said.
Mbalula has survived more culls in government than most and there are good reasons for that. Politically astute, highly visible and energetic, he brings all of this to bare in the fulfillment of his designated portfolio. Always willing to play the fool, it would take an uninformed observer to call him one.