Scholar Transport: Department of Transport briefing

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29 August 2011
Chairperson: Mr M Manana (ANC)(Acting)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Transport gave a follow-up briefing to the Committee on the Scholar Transport Policy. The presenters noted that the Department was aware of the urgency of the matters, and had reached the stage where consultations had been finalised with the provinces and stakeholders, both within and outside government, but inputs still had to be correlated and consolidated, checked and the Policy published for comment. Most provinces had agreed, at Provincial Council level, to the shift in functions from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to the Department of Transport (DoT), but there were still some outstanding issues between the two departments and it was implied that the relationship on these issues was not as ideal as it could have been. The mandate of the Department of Transport, as outlined in the 1996 White Paper, was to deal with all transport matters, since it bore the primary role of policy formulation, monitoring and review. Although other service providers would be contracted, the monitoring must still be done by the DoT. There were ongoing discussions between the Ministers of Transport, Basic Education and Finance about appropriation of resources, and there was a need to determine how functions could be grouped. A major problem was that there were currently no standardised norms, either for when transport would be offered, or at what price, and this was a major stumbling block that must be resolved.

Members expressed their concern about the lack of norms and standards, and agreed that these must be addressed. All Members expressed support for the DoT taking over the Scholar Transport function. Members noted that the children were being deprived at the moment, and cited issues in Eastern Cape that were causing much disagreement. Members asked when the policy was likely to be finalised.

Meeting report

Opening remarks
Mr M Manana was appointed as the Acting Chairperson since Ms N Bhengu, Chairperson of this Committee, had to attend another meeting.

The Acting Chairperson noted that this meeting was a follow up with the Department of Transport (DoT or the Department) on Scholar Transport. The Committee wished to hear about progress on the Scholar Transport Policy, and any achievements on the objectives. He noted that in the absence of a quorum, this meeting could not take any final decisions.

Scholar Transport: Department of Transport (DoT) briefing
Mr Mathabatha Mokonyama, Deputy Director-General: Public Transport, DoT, noted that this was a follow up to the Department’s last presentation in April 2011. The Department was well aware of the urgency of the issues and would like to indicate how far it had gone and what the feedback had been from agencies, and from learners, particularly those with special needs. He would also report back on discussions held with the Department of Basic Education (DBE), and with the Minister of Finance.

Mr Mokonyama noted that the Department had finalised its consultations with the provinces and stakeholders both within and outside government. It still had to finalise matters in respect of Gauteng, Northern Cape and Western Cape. Here, although the rounds of discussions had been held, the inputs still needed to be consolidated, checked and summarised, and processed.

In Northern cape there had been agreement, at Provincial Council level, for a shift of functions to the Provincial Department responsible for transport. The DoT would therefore be reporting to the Committee on finalisation of the matter. There had been very strong lobbying against any proposals to shift the functions of scholar transport to the Department of Basic Education (DBE). The DoT wanted to reiterate that, wherever the functions were implemented, it would be preferable that they be centralised and standardised in one department. The mandate of the Department of Transport, and what was contained in the White Paper on the National Transport Policy of 1996, made it clear that any type of transport, be it be public, private or scholar transport, vested with the DoT, who still bore the primary role of policy formulation, monitoring and review of that policy.

Mr Mokonyama noted that the discussions between the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Transport were centred around the proper appropriation of resources for scholar transport, as well as the location of scholar transport, and there were also ongoing discussions with the Ministers of Basic Education and Transport.

There was no real resistance encountered across all nine provinces to the concept that scholar transport would primarily be a responsibility of the DoT. All stakeholders were unanimously agreed that policies must be formulated, and in this regard had offered support to the DoT. In one province the point had been raised that transport should be integrated with the education of a child, and the view was expressed that the functions should not be held by separate departments. Although the DBE and Minister and education sector had indicated their support on the formulation of policy, they had also indicated that it might be necessary to make further pronouncements on the shift in function, because a number of issues came into play. One issue that was raised clearly was around departmentalisation, and how functions could be grouped or separated. However, many of the functions were enshrined in the Constitution, and the Premiers were given certain prerogatives, so that the DoT need not make a decision on those issues.

Mr Mokonyama noted the other main issue was the lack of uniform norms and standards in regard to how various provinces were undertaking operations. Firstly, there was a need to try to address the discrepancies around the distances in relation to the schools and where the pupils lived. Some provinces were proposing that scholar transport be offered to those living three kilometres and more from their homes, whereas others were proposing distances of five, seven and even ten kilometres, and this was because of concerns about cost. Then there was also a need to standardise the cost per kilometre that it was proposed to pay to operators. There needed to be uniformity on these, and other issues.

Mr Mokonyama noted that the Department firstly had wanted to resolve any disagreements with the DBE around the shifting of functions. The National Land Transport Act (NLTA) said that scholar transport should be part of the transport services within a City or Municipality, and there should not be any separation at planning and design level as it was to form part of an integrated system. The NLTA also gave certain authority to municipalities, but all positions should be harmonised, so that policy took account of the needs and responsibilities of the implementing agents and contracting authorities, and that, wherever possible, issues be agreed rather than dictated upon. However, it was accepted that the responsibility of the DoT still lay with policy formulation and review, and monitoring of services and operations, whether at national or provincial level. That point would be made very clear in the final draft.

Mr Mokonyama reiterated that the whole document still needed to be finalised and checked for consistency, would be forwarded to language practitioners, and that the final draft would be gazetted when a call for comment within 21 days was made. The proper processes would then be followed at government level to finalise the Scholar Transport Policy. He said that broad agreements had been reached and would be incorporated in the Policy, but frameworks, and guidelines would be set before the Policy was ready for adoption.

He noted that he and his colleagues had been keeping comprehensive notes and reports on the consultations, and would be happy to elaborate on any points.

Ms D Dlakude (ANC) noted that the Portfolio Committee was in favour of scholar transport being dealt with by the DoT, since its officials were well versed in traffic and transport management issues, whereas the DBE had the core mandate of teaching and learning. She noted that it was a pity that tariffs for transport operators were not yet standardised. Those who tended to be worst affected were those in rural areas where, despite the roads being so poor, the operators were paid less. Some of these operators were even having to take out bank loans to finance their vehicles. She said it was vital to have improvement and uniformity on tariffs.
Mr M De Freitas (DA) questioned the position in the Northern Cape, saying that some contradictory information seemed to have been presented.

Mr De Freitas asked when the Green Paper had been published, and whether there were any dates prescribed for the implementation of the policy.

Mr De Freitas was concerned to hear about the disagreement or “turf war” around the functions of the two departments. Children were currently travelling back and forth to school under the most dangerous conditions, as clearly demonstrated by the bus accident at Knysna in the previous week. Although he had not yet discussed the issue in depth with other Members of this Committee he was quite sure that all would agree that this situation was unacceptable and there was an urgent need to resolve the issue and keep the impetus.

Mr De Freitas agreed with Ms Dlakude that scholar transport was rightly a prerogative of the DoT, because that Department had the necessary expertise and officials who could ensure that proper regulations were drawn, and who would ensure that the correct legal steps were followed. He also agreed that the DBE should be attending to learning matters, and the DBE should be transporting the learners. He requested that the DoT should report back once it had resolved the impasse on this issue.

Ms N Mdaka (ANC) thanked the Department for the presentation. She noted that scholar transport was causing major problems in the Eastern Cape Province, and in the Lady Frere areas there was apparently on-going fighting between teachers, learners and transport providers because of the lack of uniformity on tariffs. She also agreed fully with her colleagues that DBE should focus on learning and DoT should handle transport, including scholar transport.

Ms N Ngele (ANC) noted the point around the 21 days for comment as part of the process. However, from her experience with departments and Parliament, she believed that the process would take far longer, and this was of concern because children were suffering right now, most particularly in the rural areas. She requested that the DoT must try to fast-track the process. She agreed with her colleagues that it was appropriate for DoT to handle scholar transport and said that it should not be concerned to involve other departments, as that could delay the process and the finalisation of the Scholar Transport Policy.

The Acting Chairperson thanked Members for their contributions, and noted clear concerns about the untenable situation between the two departments. He agreed that the DoT should be asked to resolve the matter as soon as possible and achieve progress. This Portfolio Committee would also meet with the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, to assist the process. However, the Committee appreciated the progress made so far and had a clear sense that there was light at the end of the tunnel. The final Policy must address concerns around who would transport learners, and what type of transport was required. Although the autonomy and mandate of provinces was respected, he also agreed that there should be attempts to reach uniformity on practices and procedures, including qualifying distances, and tariffs, and more work was needed in this regard. There were still also concerns about where the function should be located. Members unanimously agreed that DoT should deal with transport of learners, and DBE should deal with education of those learners, but there was a need to ensure that all departments, including the provincial departments, were on board. The Committee would take advice from the Committee in this regard, but could also try to assist the process through oversight visits to the provinces.

Mr Mokonyama thanked the Chairperson, noting that the comments from Members had given hope and encouragement. The DoT had been dealing with the issues for a long time and shared the concerns. The real outstanding matter related to the shift of function. If this could be resolved, then the antagonism between the DoT and DBE would also be resolved. This had been the real stumbling block to not being able to gazette the Policy some time ago. He quoted a letter from the Minister of Basic Education, noting that the policy proposal was presented and discussed in several meetings with the DBE, particularly in regard to allocation of functions by provincial Executive Councils, in line with provincial dynamics. The Department had believed that funding should follow the function, and that the function should rest with the DoT. It had been requested that the Policy be amended, and once this had been formally done, then the direction for the Policy could be set.

Mr Mokonyama hoped that the Committee would understand the dilemma that faced the DoT, because the matter had to be resolved at a particular level. Although the amendment of the Policy might not itself cause controversy, a decision must be made on whether this should be directed to the contracting authority, implementing agency, or provincial administration. It was important to emphasis that the DoT was responsible for policy formulation, and setting of standards, including tariff determination. DoT was also responsible for planning, designs and approval of designs, whether at national, provincial or local level. The institutional arrangements and roles and responsibilities of officials would have to be clearly addressed in the final Policy.

He emphasised that the DoT had taken note of Members’ comments and would engage robustly with the DBE, and try to respond, at Ministerial level, on the consultation process.

Mr Mokonyama noted, in answer to the question of time frames, that it was likely that the DoT might be able to finalise the issues within the next week or two. Other issues had already been resolved. There would have to be time to produce the final draft. The period of consultation was legislated for as 21 days. If, after the Policy was gazetted, there was no strong objection raised, which would then necessitate a complete review, then it was likely that the Department could have the Policy ready to put before Parliament, for approval and adoption, within about two months. Although this was quite a tight deadline, he believed that it could be met.

Mr Mokonyama noted the concerns that there were still disagreements about some issues, but this had largely resulted from the fragmented and differential approach taken in the past. The DoT wanted to resolve that, and thereafter follow the guidelines and standards around design and planning. He agreed that the tariff determinations were very important. There was a vast difference between R12 and 35 cents being paid per kilometre per learner, and those tariffs were not scientifically calculated. If standards were set that prescribed how the tariff must be calculated, then this would make the position quite clear and could assist the operators who tendered to provide the service, avoiding excessively high or low tenders. To date, scholar transport had traditionally been under-funded.

The Acting Chairperson thanked Mr Mokonyama and reiterated that this Committee would arrange to meet with the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education to try to assist the two departments to resolve the impasse and fast track the process.

The meeting was adjourned.


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