Ghost workers remain invisible

To talk from both sides of the mouth is a key part of equivocating. It is when a speaker gives voice to two opposing views in order to mislead or keep his options open.

It happened this week in parliament when Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula made an about-turn about so-called ghost employees at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa). In March, Minister Razzmatazz shocked the nation when he revealed the rail operator stopped paying the salaries of 3 000 “employees” and no one came forward to complain they hadn’t been paid. The “grand scam” was discovered during Operation Ziveze aimed at uncovering irregularities.

The minister told us there was a system of corruption within human resources and somebody had orchestrated the scam to steal money.

“In a normal company, you can’t afford to have one ghost worker. We have 3 000  and since December a stoppage was done on paying those people,” he said at the time but could not confirm whether the ghosts were part of Prasa’s workforce of 16 985.

In a country with rampant unemployment, we were outraged that public funds were pilfered to pay fictitious employees. We expected the minister to pursue the matter with zeal to recover the money, and even lock up those who had benefited unduly.

Clearly, there would be a paper trail allowing Prasa to trace the bank accounts that received fraudulent salaries.

Fast forward to this week when Minister Fearfokol (as he sometimes refers to himself) appeared before parliament to give an update on whether Prasa had implemented steps to recover money from the ghosts. Mbaks said there was no freezing of salaries as Prasa was still auditing and confirming the unidentified individuals.

“This is to protect the credibility of the process by ensuring that the company does not stop the salaries of active employees who are on duly authorised absence from work, on leave, sick leave, suspension, maternity leave and employees working outside the cities,” came his reply.

Bathong!  Didn’t the same minister claim a few months ago that when salaries were stopped, no one came forward to complain?

How I wish I was making this up. To his credit, the minister has admitted Prasa is broken.

This is the company that fired security companies during the hard lockdown in 2020. As a result, thieves stole sleepers while stations were vandalised. Billions of rand will be required to replace the heavy sleepers. To make matters worse, informal settlements have mushroomed near the rail lines while Prasa and the minister were asleep.

The mind boggles.

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