Please Madame Minister…

Please Madame Minister…

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula is gone. Well, gone from the Department of Transport – which can only be a good thing. We really hope that his successor will do a much better job…

Poor Sindisiwe Chikunga. She’s been handed a hospital pass. I wouldn’t want the job of Minister of Transport for all the tea in China. Can you imagine sitting down and thinking about how to fix Transnet – if indeed this is still possible?

While I think her role is the job from hell, Chikunga does have the opportunity to become a superstar in the eyes of South Africans. All she has to do is to fix the driving licence system. This, I believe, can be fixed – in time.

Unfortunately, Mbalula did a scandalously poor job when it comes to addressing this mess (and indeed many others). I hope and pray that Chikunga won’t do the same. It’s really not rocket science to fix the many issues…

First and foremost, the driving licence card should not expire until the driver is of a certain age. As Gavin Kelly, CEO of the Road Freight Association, suggests, renewal is not necessary, but regular eye tests are – and these can be done very easily.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) disagrees with the non-expiring cards but would like the validity period to be extended from the current five years to 10 years. According to OUTA, an extension requires a change in regulations, which is a simpler process than changing legislation. In 2013, the then Minister Dipuo Peters gazetted regulations extending the validity to 10 years, but later withdrew this without explanation.

Mbalula actually gave the extension some consideration. In February 2022, he announced that he had commissioned the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) to research the extension issue.

“OUTA and many others have raised their issue to say that ‘why are you not extending the renewal to 10 years’ so through the RTMC, we have commissioned a study and research… And on the basis of that research, which we will compare with other countries, we will then make a determination on the status quo of five years, as it stands, [and whether it] is beneficial or counter-productive. Should we arrive at a conclusion informed by the research, we will immediately spring into action,” Mbalula said at the time.

But no one immediately sprang into action – and this is simply ridiculous. “We respectfully do not understand the delay, as the Minister can easily effect the change by publishing the new regulations in the Government Gazette,” says Andrea van Heerden, OUTA Senior Legal Project Manager. Agreed; that would be one particularly important box ticked.

The second most important task is to get new card machines. Maybe two instead of one? Just to reduce the risk of no cards being produced if the single card machine goes kaput?

According to OUTA, the Driving Licence Card Account (DLCA), a Department of Transport entity, is responsible for producing the cards, as its sole activity. To say that the current machine – the only one in South Africa – is old is an understatement, and it was out of service from November 2021 to January 2022. The DLCA annual report for 2021/22 says this resulted in a backlog of 639 000 cards.

On 10 November 2022, the Department of Transport issued the tender for the provision of a turnkey solution for smart licence cards, including the provision, installation, and maintenance of a new machine, on a five-year contract. The closing date was 30 November (just 20 days after publication) although this was subsequently extended.

“It is not clear who has bid for the tender or whether it has been awarded. The costs are also unclear. The DLCA annual report notes that in March 2022, the DLCA had an accumulated surplus of R448 million, so presumably this will be used to buy the machine,” notes OUTA.

If Chikunga can achieve those two things (changing the validity period and buying new machines), she will be lauded by every single South African driver. Along the way, she also needs to stamp out the widespread corruption and waste. But hey, let’s start with baby steps…

Published by

Charleen Clarke

CHARLEEN CLARKE is editorial director of FOCUS. While she is based in Johannesburg, she spends a considerable amount of time overseas, attending international transport events – largely in her capacity as associate member of the International Truck of the Year Jury.
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