Minister Mbalula leaves driving licence system in chaos
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula may vacate office for his ANC job leaving issues with the driving licence card renewal system unresolved.
The Minister appears to have done little to resolve the chaos in his portfolio.
On the driving licence card issue, these are the key problems OUTA wants resolved:
1. The extension of the validity of the licence cards;
2. The procurement and use of a new card production machine to replace the one that breaks down; and
3. A clear plan to the widespread corruption and waste in the Driving Licence Testing Centre (DLTC) system and transport entities.
“At the end of the day, the buck stops with the Minister of Transport,” says Andrea van Heerden, OUTA Senior Legal Project Manager.
Extending the cards to 10 years
OUTA again calls on the Minister to publish regulations extending the validity period of the driving licence cards. OUTA wants the validity period to be extended from the current five years to 10 years.
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.
“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.
In September 2020, OUTA wrote to Minister Mbalula, calling for the card validity to be extended to 10 years and providing a short study to back up this call, to save both motorists and government time and money (see here).
In June 2021, OUTA ran a survey through social media about frustrations with the driving licence card renewal system. A total of 65% of the 3 685 respondents reported frustration with the ineffectiveness of the online booking system. More than 10% said they had witnessed bribery, about 45% referred to “poor staff attitude” and 60% complained about long queues.
In February 2022, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) launched the online booking system for Gauteng on its National Road Traffic Information System (Natis) online platform.
Also in February 2022, the Minister announced that he had commissioned the RTMC to research the extension issue. “You know 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,” the Minister said at the time.
On 10 March 2022, OUTA met with Minister Mbalula to again call for the extension of validity to 10 years, to improve system efficiency (see here). A year later there is still no decision.
In October 2022, the Minister indicated that a new driving licence card would be tested and that the current five-year validity period would be extended to eight years (see here) but did not provide any explanation for deciding on eight years.
In November 2022, OUTA filed an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) to the RTMC, calling for a copy of the research report on the validity period, to get clarity on how the eight years was decided, and for clarity on the fees. The RTMC refused this and in February 2023 OUTA filed an internal appeal against the refusal. The outcome is awaited.
A new card production machine
OUTA wants to know why we are still waiting for the new machine for producing driving licence cards.
The Driving Licence Card Account (DLCA), a Department of Transport entity, is responsible for producing the cards, as its sole activity. The current machine – the only one in South Africa – is old and was out of service from November 2021 to January 2022, and the DLCA annual report for 2021/22 says this resulted in a backlog of 639 000 cards.
On 31 August 2022, Cabinet approved the replacement of the driving licence card to one with more secure design features.
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.
Corruption, mismanagement and waste
The Department of Transport – and thus the Minister – has overall responsibility for the driving licence cards. The cards are produced by the department’s entity the DLCA, and the motorists apply and pay for the cards through DLTCs which are run by municipalities and provinces. The RTMC, also a Department of Transport entity, sets the fees and runs the online NaTIS booking system.
The different parts of the system leave open opportunities for corruption and mismanagement.
· In September 2021, the RTMC proposed new fees, including charging motorists R250 just to make an online booking for a slot in the queue to renew a driving licence, over and above the transaction fees (see here). OUTA wrote to the Minister and the RTMC, asking for an explanation on the fee proposals (see here). After OUTA criticised this, the department dropped the fee from the final version. The fees are shrouded in secrecy. The RTMC sets them in consultation with the Minister and provincial MECs, so fees can differ from province to province with no explanation. OUTA’s PAIA application to the RTMC in November 2022 included a request for information on how the fees are calculated and how the revenue is distributed, but this information was refused. The secrecy encourages corruption.
· The online booking system was rolled out in Gauteng first and thousands of motorists were unable to book through NaTIS, then had to wait months for their cards. The DLCA annual report of 2021/22 sheds some light on that chaos, explaining that cards were held back from DLTCs with long outstanding debt. “The driving licence cards for the Gauteng province were produced but held back due to non-payment, this resulted in the percentage of driving licence cards delivered exceeding seven working days as Gauteng has the largest number of driving licence card orders.” The report also notes that only 73% of external calls were resolved within seven working days, saying there was a delay in appointing a service contractor after the end of the existing contract in July 2021. Again, motorists were at the mercy of incompetent – or corrupt – systems.
· The DLCA has failed to deliver the promised new card machine and failed to run a professional system. Despite this, the staff payments have increased massively. Budget 2023 shows that the headcount increased from 56 staff in 2021/22 at a cost of R18.7 million, to 71 staff in 2022/23 at a cost of R39.7 million. The staff cost thus goes from average of R333 928 per person in 2021/22 to R559 154 per person in 2022/23 – an increase of 67% in a single year. OUTA finds this outrageous, particularly for an entity that fails to deliver.
· In September 2022, a report commissioned by the Gauteng Premier’s Office found widespread entrenched corruption and chaos in the province’s driving licence system, particularly at the DLTCs. See here. We have yet to hear of decisive action taken against those implicated or how the system will be redesigned to eradicate corruption.
· OUTA believes that neither the DLCA nor the RTMC are delivering value for money. Instead, the impression is of departmental entities with a business model which prioritises revenue generation above service delivery. The services are inadequate, so where does the money go?
OUTA believes that driving licences are essential tools for South Africans and should be available through a fair, legally appropriate and well-managed system. Instead, South Africa has a system rotten with corruption and failed administration, coupled with an unacceptable poor record of road safety. This is a national crisis but the Minister has failed to address it.
A soundclip with comment by Andrea van Heerden, OUTA Senior Legal Project Manager is here.
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