The Portfolio Committee on Transport met to review its draft Committee Report on its recent fact finding mission to China. This Study Tour had concentrated on establishing how the government of China had responded to challenges of transport, and how it used transport transformation processes to address social problems and improve the economic conditions in that country. The multi party delegation was also accompanied by an official from the Department of Transport (the Department) who was spearheading the development of the National Transport Master Plan. Challenges that the Committee had identified in South Africa, and wished to compare with China, included the high cost of travelling and transporting of goods, the length of time taken in travelling short distances, the lack of integration of different modes of transport, the unsafe and unreliable transport services, the high level of congestion on South African roads, the congestion of traffic in big cities, the degraded road and rail network and the degraded rolling stock.
Members commented on the draft Committee Report, noting that it contained items dealing with positive assumptions, conclusions and recommendations. It was noted that the Memorandum of Understanding, queried during a previous meeting, had now been signed, but Members noted that this was not one of the issues contained in the Report and need not be noted. Members also noted that R200 million had been given by the Chinese Government for the purpose of skills development. Only R30 million had been utilised, and it was recommended that the balance be used to develop skills in the transport industry. Changes were suggested to the wording around heavy goods, noting that the Department should be encouraging transport by rail because of the high incidence of road accidents, the degradation of roads, and congestion of roads. Members felt that old rolling stock should not be rehabilitated, but replaced, although China had taken a dual approach to the problem, and Members distinguished between rehabilitation of infrastructure and that of the locomotives. Members also questioned whether subsidisation of the taxi service should not happen, but this was not a recommendation in the Report at this stage, and it was agreed that the wording should suggest that South Africa should review the Public Transport Subsidy, so that it fell in line with the Chinese model. Members also agreed that the Report should agree that the Chinese High Speed Rail Technology was currently considered to be proven state-of-the-art. The Report should further include a recommendation that the government should try to ensure that social and economic development were central in the planning and development of all modes of transport in the country. The report was adopted and would be tabled for debate, to alert Parliament to the changes that would take place in the transport industry.
Committee Report on Study Tour to China: deliberations
The Chairperson thanked all Members who had contributed input on the draft Committee Report on the Study Tour to China (the Report), and also expressed her appreciation to those Members who addressed the corrections.
She summarised that this Study Tour had concentrated on establishing how the government of China had responded to challenges of transport, and how it used transport transformation processes to address social problems and improve the economic conditions in that country.
The Committee used the report on the National Household Survey on Public Transport and the National Transport Master Plan as guiding documents for engaging with the Chinese government departments and State owned companies that made up the transportation industry in China. The multi party delegation, comprising of seven members, was accompanied by the Deputy Director General of the Department of Transport, Dr Lanfranc Situma, who was spearheading the development of the National Transport Master Plan (NATMAP). Challenges that the Committee had identified in South Africa, and wished to compare with China, included the high cost of travelling and transporting of goods, the length of time taken in travelling short distances, the lack of integration of different modes of transport, the unsafe and unreliable transport services, the high level of congestion on South African roads, the congestion of traffic in big cities, the degraded road and rail network and the degraded rolling stock.
Ms N Ngele (ANC) reminded the Chairperson that the report had been read the previous week, and asked why it was being tabled again.
The Chairperson indicated that the Committee was now addressing the final draft, and that any final corrections still needing to be made would be effected. The Committee should also focus on the findings, as well as social and economic conditions relating to transport development. The Committee would be comparing the South African and Chinese situations on transport, as well as the proposal that was made by the Chinese government, and considering whether the Chinese model would be adopted. The Chairperson confirmed that Item 17 in the draft would cover positive assumptions and any other additions that would be of benefit, Item 18 would cover conclusions and Item 19 would deal with the recommendations. She stressed that the recommendations must align with the findings as well as the positive assumptions.
Dr Lanfranc Situma, Deputy Director General, Department of Transport, said that the issue of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) had been raised in the previous week. This had been signed in the current week.
The Chairperson clarified that most of the government departments and State Owned companies who had met with the delegation proposed that a Memorandum of Understanding be signed between the South African and Chinese Governments.
Dr Situma reminded the Committee that the MOU was signed to formalise the interactive engagement between South Africa and China, and that specialists would be engaged for the purpose of developing our skills.
Ms Ngele emphasised that the MOU was not signed in China, but only in the past week, and thus questioned whether it should be noted in the report.
Dr Situma informed the Committee that the drafters, who had been in China, had left shortly before the Committee Members had arrived in China. By that stage, the MOU had already been drafted so this process was in fact concurrent with the visit of the Committee. Although the MOU had been drafted, it had not been signed at the time. This was something that the Committee should report on in its Report.
Mr M De Freitas (DA) suggested that for the sake of the draft Report, Members should confine themselves to whatever had been part of their visit, and not deal with matters consequent upon it.
Ms P Ngwenya (ANC) agreed that the Report should concentrate on the findings around the visit and not include those matters that did not form part of that visit.
Mr E Lucas (IFP) agreed with this, noting that Members should not be influenced by the current developments, when finalising the Report.
Dr Situma reported that the China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC) was willing to offer free training on the upgrading of rail signals in South Africa.
The Chairperson referred to a recommendation that had been made with regard to the R200 million given by the Chinese Government for the purpose of skills development. Members were also made aware of the fact that only R30 million of this amount had been utilised, and it was therefore recommended that the balance be used to develop skills in the transport industry.
Mr Lucas asked for further clarity with regard to free training.
The Chairperson responded that this money could have enabled students to go to universities or State Owned Enterprises to be equipped with skills, after identifying the skills that were needed, to develop human resources with the correct skills. The Chinese government had already committed this money and had suggested that the Committee utilise the balance of R170 million towards skills development to do with transport in South Africa. This proposal was added on as an additional item in the draft report.
Dr Situma offered proposals to improve the wording, under the item dealing with Positive Assumptions, related to encouraging heavy goods to be transported by rail rather than by road. He said that this should emphasise and address three important areas, which were the incidence of accidents, the degradation of roads, and congestion of roads, as a result of the transportation of heavy goods by road.
The Chairperson addressed further matters in this area. She asked Members to bear in mind that the Report, although it did have links between items with similar content, nonetheless made a distinction between items dealing with observations, and those dealing with assumptions. These should not be confused. Observations made under item 15 of the Report would transfer into the benefits mentioned under Item 17, if the Department of Transport in South Africa decided to apply what was applied in China.
A Member of the ANC queried why “Conclusions” were addressed before the “Recommendations”.
The Chairperson responded that this was done in accordance with the Parliamentary template for reports. “Conclusions” referred to what the Committee had concluded at the end of its meeting. “Observations” or “Recommendations” would be debated in Parliament.
Ms Ngwenya referred to the rehabilitation of old rolling stock. She felt that this would be more expensive than acquiring new stock.
Dr Situma suggested that there would be a gradual move away from the rehabilitation of old rolling stock. This would not be done rapidly, since the economy had to be sustained. He reminded Members that China had been, and was indeed still going through the same processes. Rehabilitation of critical lines in China had taken place. There had therefore been a “double-barrel” approach to the problems there.
Mr Lucas emphasised that rolling stock in South Africa was in bad shape and that the replacement should therefore achieve modernisation, rather than merely improving on old stock. He felt that if money was used to improve old rolling stock, the stock would, sooner or later, still have to be replaced. He urged that the money should be used wisely.
The Chairperson felt that there was some confusion about what needed to be rehabilitated. She observed that Members were confusing rehabilitation of infrastructure with rehabilitation of locomotives. She pointed out that Item 19.7 in the draft report dealt specifically with the rehabilitation of locomotives, and Item 19.8 dealt with the rehabilitation of infrastructure. The rolling stock was mentioned specifically in regard to locomotives. She also reminded Members that China did not rehabilitate its locomotives, but its infrastructure. As a result of this observation, the recommendation that the move away from the rehabilitation of old rolling stock be gradual one was in fact to be taken out.
Mr Lucas raised an issue around the taxi service, and questioned whether a few could be subsidised since this would be a tremendous boost to the industry. He asked how this could be implemented.
The Chairperson mentioned that this particular matter was not a point for recommendation at this stage. All transport in South Africa received a minimum subsidy. She reminded members that in China Members had seen that school children were subsidised to 80% of the cost and pensioners received free service. She indicated that nowhere in this Report was it recommended that the cost of traveling, or the transport subsidy system, should be reviewed.
Ms Ngwenya felt that the recommendation for taxis to be subsidised should be made. She understood that buses travelling from the townships to the city were subsidized, but those operating in the rural areas were not.
Dr Situma responded to these concerns by indicating that the subsidisation of taxis was already being considered, and that alternatives were being examined. He suggested that the Committee recommend that taxis be subsidized along the Chinese model.
The Chairperson suggested that the recommendation should then be rephrased to read that South Africa should review the Public Transport Subsidy, so that it fell in line with the Chinese model. She reminded the Committee that in most cases domestic workers were using taxis and not buses, and the access roads to schools were poor. The service providers were becoming worse and posed a serious problem.
Dr Situma commented further on the recommendations in the draft Report, and suggested that perhaps the Committee should also recommend that South Africa accept that the Chinese High Speed Rail Technology was amongst the proven state-of-the-art facilities in the world. It should also be noted that the Chinese technology was now patented, and could only be accessed through China. Once South Africa accepted that technology’s status, it could not then be suggested that it fell short of competitive technology. Other countries like the United States of America (USA) had already approved this technology and the Japanese were competing with the Chinese in this regard.
Mr De Freitas suggested that the recommendation to accept China’s technology as state-of-the-art, should be amended to read that it was “presently” considered state-of-the-art. Technology was always advancing and future technology may be better and more suitable for South Africa. He cautioned that the Committee should not commit itself to wording that would prevent it from recommending more advanced technology that might become available.
Mr Lucas emphasised to Members that this technology was only one of a range of technologies that were proven as state-of-the-art. The Committee should not diverge from what was stated.
Dr Situma emphasised that, in the transport field, this technology was viewed as the proven state-of-the-art technology at present. Currently, there was no better model available.
The Chairperson agreed, and stated that until such time as a more advanced model became available, the current Chinese model was viewed as the state-of–the-art. The Chairperson also asked that members not delay the process of the recommendations being accepted, stressing that time was money and opportunities may be lost by delays. She asked Members to take into account all the motivating factors accommodated in the Report, which could position South Africa as a launching pad for Africa in this area of technology.
Ms Ngwenya referred to a matter concerning planning which was not based on profits but on peoples’ needs. She asked how this could be accommodated in the Report. It was an important matter, since most planning seemed to place greater emphasis on profit rather than needs.
The Chairperson felt that what she was hearing was that these matters were alwasy being brought up as a learning experience but when recommendations were made, they were not recommendations that were going to move South Africa from the perception of being informed by cost recovery. However, when transport was positioned as a tool for influencing investment, then one would not look at cost recovery but at the social and economic benefits in terms of investment.
Dr Situma suggested that the recommendation be that the South African government should try to ensure that social and economic development should be central in the planning and development of all modes of transport in the country. In reality, an efficient transport network was paramount to an efficient government, since it was impossible to promote effective administration without efficient transport systems to back it up. An example might be the need to effectively access areas that were flooded. This recommendation would also be added on as an amendment.
Dr Situma informed the Committee that he had been selected by the Minister to be leader of the Task Force who would be addressing the Memorandum of Understanding. The matters discussed in this meeting with the Committee had helped him in this position. He would also inform the Minister of the matters discussed in the meeting.
An ANC Member referred back to the matter of the finances that was made available by the Chinese government. The Committee should perhaps look again at how these monies were to be used. Effective utilisation of funds provided good grounds for training and development of skills, but the kind of training and kind of improvement needed to be carefully considered.
Dr Situma informed the Committee of the establishment of a Committee dealing with skills, which would be headed by Mr Lerato in the Minister’s office. He emphasised the seriousness of human resource development in the Department of Transport.
Members then considered the whole Report, and adopted it, as amended.
The Chairperson indicated that the reports that have been adopted by the Committee would be tabled in Parliament for debate.
Mr Lucas asked whether the Report would be debated, or merely presented.
The Chairperson indicated that the debate was not concerned with attempting to reach any agreement, but was necessary in order to inform the nation and to justify a major change that would take place in the transport industry.
Consideration of Minutes
The Chairperson suggested that the grammatical errors in the minutes be attended to before the Committee proceeded to adopt them. The adoption would therefore stand over to another meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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