Cross-border road transport between RSA and Lesotho: Department of Transport update

NCOP Public Services

04 December 2012
Chairperson: Mr M Sibande (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met with the Department of Transport (DOT) and Cross Border Road Transport Agency (CBRTA) to be briefed on progress of the Special Dispensation that was to be implemented to address, in the short term, the problems with cross-border transport between Free State and Lesotho taxi operators. A number of stakeholders had been consulted. The CBRTA emphasised that legal compliance and law enforcement arrangements were needed. At a meeting of 18 October, various concerns, fully enumerated in the presentation, were set out, including the apparent contradictions between the SADC Protocol and Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Memorandum of Understanding, uncertainty about operators working only within the borders or across borders as well, why the Act was not simply being enforced strictly, the desirability of having a centralised ranking facility, the cost of the CBRTA permit and continued disadvantages to Free State operators. There were concerns that the Lesotho operators would not comply, and concerns that they would continue to use illegal ranks. It was recommended that cross-border operators should be allowed to travel across the border into Lesotho, agreed that safety of commuters must be assured and a mechanism was needed to stabilise operations.  A pilot project was suggested, from December 2012. The Free State Border Control Operational Coordinating Committee was worried whether it would have manpower to implement the arrangements, and South African Police Services said they would already be stretched because of the Mangaung Conference. Government in South Africa had also raised concerns, stressing that solutions should not be seen to be imposed on Lesotho. It was recommended that the draft proposals be sent through to the Lesotho government, and parallel consultation processes be undertaken with municipalities in the affected areas. The Lesotho Transport Ministry agreed that a designated ranking facility was needed, and still had concerns that the proposals violated the SACU agreement. It wanted further time to consult with all affected departments in Lesotho. There was also a problem that although only one taxi association, LPTCA, was recognised, two others were in existence. Although it was proposed that the permits system devolve on Lesotho, it was not sure that it had the capacity to cope with this. Lesotho apparently needed until end of December to address its own consultations and problems.

It was, however, agreed that joint circulars would be issued to the law enforcement agencies setting out what would apply in December. Only the LPTCA would be recognised for the moment, and the DOT would be meeting with the South African and Lesotho operators, with government representatives, to try to get their buy-in to immediate implementation of proposals. CBRTA was busy with a new web-based system for printing new permits that all inter and intra-provincial operators would have to acquire, whilst all those doing cross-border transport had to apply for additional permits. This would apply only to the taxis, not the buses. Regulations had to be passed setting out the Special Emergency measures.  

Members were concerned that no definite arrangements were yet in place, and several insisted that these must be presented at this meeting. They asked why the September meeting promises to have a dispensation in place by 16 November had not transpired, and were disappointed that no solutions were actually proposed now. The South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) also commented that it had not seen these proposals, but did not think they took the matter further. After discussion, the Department of Transport summarised that the legal framework and economic realities were not in alignment, and that buy-in from all stakeholders was critical. For this reason, the DOT felt that consultation with everyone must be completed before a solution was presented. In the medium term, agreements and transitional licensing rights would be in place for all operators. In the long term, institutions to resolve the problems would be set up across the SADC. The DOT conceded that it had been over-ambitious when saying earlier that the matter would be resolved by 18 November, but requested indulgence to continue with the processes. Everyone agreed that all operators and stakeholders had to be on board to find amicable solutions and avoid violent conflict. They proposed that the Special Dispensation continue for the moment, and a further report would be made by DOT very shortly.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson noted the apologies of the MEC for Transport in the Free State, who had to attend another urgent meeting of the Executive.

He explained that even though Parliament adjourned today, the Committee felt it very important that a follow-up meeting be held to show commitment and check the process of development on the cross-border road transport issues. He noted that there were ongoing difficulties, as evidenced by the fact that a few days previously, eleven people were shot and killed in Johannesburg, in a disturbance between Beit Bridge operators and a taxi association. This Committee was directly involved in the provinces, and had to be closely informed. He called for the Department of Transport (DOT) to present a summary of the current situation. He noted that transport was booming in the Free State, but local operators were worried that they were not benefitting.

Department of Transport & Cross Border Road Transport Agency update report: Proposed special dispensation model
Mr Sipho Khumalo, Chief Executive Officer, Cross Border Road Transport Agency, noted that the Agency (CBRTA) had appeared last before the Committee in September 2012, after which it had embarked on a consultation process. The process was not completed as yet, and the Committee would be informed of the challenges.

Mr Mudunwazi Baloyi, Executive Manager: Facilitation, CRBRTA, noted that the main purpose of his presentation was to brief the Select Committee on the results of the consultations with the stakeholders, and to present recommendations on the way to move forward. He noted that critical processes needed before the special dispensation or any other arrangements could be implemented had included the consultation with key stakeholders, and the development of an action plan based on their input and for CBRTA to participate in all stakeholder engagement process. It was critical that the consultation process must address legal compliance, streamline law enforcement processes, and that the final model be presented to the MEC for Transport in Free State as well as the Presidency, which was the custodian of all international agreements.

Mr Baloyi listed the stakeholders involved in the consultative framework. In addition to the CBRTA Regulatory Committee, those consulted included the Office of the Presidency, the South African Ministry of Transport, the Lesotho Ministry of Transport and Traffic, the South African High Commission, the National Department of Transport (DOT), the National Department of Public Works (DPW), Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and the MEC for Transport in the Free State. Others were the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL), the Free State Department of Transport and Public Safety, the South African Police Services (SAPS), municipal authorities in Mantsopa, Naledi, Setsoto and Dihlabeng), the RSA cross-border passenger carriers, the Lesotho cross-border passenger carriers (taxi associations) and stakeholders in inter- and intra-provincial operators who operated from border ranking facilities.

Consultation was held on 18 October 2012. A concern was raised there that the Task Team did not include the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol, as it apparently superceded Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Cross border operators were not certain on how the dispensation model would unfold operationally, but they indicated that they were willing to give it a chance, as a two year pilot. Although the details of how  the inter and intra-provincial and cross border operators would be operating collectively were not settled, the Task Team was asked to examine the remaining stumbling blocks carefully and consult with the operators to decide how matters would move forward.

Some of the points raised included the fact that there was a need to clarify the differences between this proposed model dispensation, and the MOU that had been signed in 2005. The latter agreement had not involved national government input. The question was raised as to why inter- and intra-provincial operators should allow for cross-border operators, as they were not permitted to do the cross border operations. It was queried why the Cross Border Road Transport Act (the Act) was not being enforced strictly, instead of making a special dispensation and continuing negotiations. Other questions related to the safety of commuters and operators, the need to establish a centralised ranking facility that was meant to cater for all of inter-and intra-provincial and cross-border operators. Mr Baloyi said that the fear was expressed that this was a recipe for disaster, and would fuel the same violence as seen in the past. The inter-provincial operators wanted the cross-border operators also to sit in on consultations about the problems that faced them.

Other comments were also enumerated. Some operators commented that the CBRTA permit was too expensive, as intra-provincial operators paid R50 for a five year permit, whilst cross border operators paid R500 for a three month permit. It was noted that although there had been agreement that one taxi rank facility would be built to comply with earlier agreements, Lesotho did not comply with its obligations in this regard. The point was made that challenges should be resolved before the festive season, as the demand for public transport would be high and Lesotho and Gauteng operators would be disadvantaged if the matter was not settled. The problems experienced with the implementation of the 2009 agreement between South Africa and Lesotho did not appear in the presentation. The provincial taxi operators had indicated that they fully supported the proposals. It was agreed that attention must be paid to the Fouriesburg ranking facility. There were concerns raised about the insurance and passenger liability, and recommendations were made that the CBRTA must issue permits that restricted operators to only off load at taxi ranks.

Mr Baloyi noted that there was a fear that Lesotho operators would still not comply with proposals that were made, because they would still load and offload anywhere they wanted. CBRTA had to consider the geographical dynamics of towns that were close to the border post. There was a general concern that Lesotho operators should stop using illegal taxi ranks. For this reason, the Task Team must still look into whether a cross border permit would allow an operator to load and off load anywhere, and whether an operator should be permitted to hold two permits - a cross border permit and a provincial permit - on one vehicle. There were concerns around Lesotho operators who had dual citizenship, and they were mainly those using the cross-border permits, which required further investigation. The High Commissioner had argued that the market should be shared.

Mr Baloyi noted that the Task Team had done a lot of work, and the operations between the two countries should be normalised in order for everybody to benefit.

Three recommendations were raised by the cross border operators as a way to resolve the crisis in the shorter term. Firstly, a mechanism was needed to enable cross border operators to move also into the Kingdom of Lesotho, instead of operating from one side of the border. It was agreed that the safety and security of commuters and vehicles must be assured. A meeting would have to be facilitated between the cross-border taxi owners based in South Africa and Lesotho to find a mechanism to stabilise their operations. The Free State Taxi Industry had already accepted the bulk of the recommendations, but these further amendments were felt to be workable. The taxi associations may want to meet on their own to further deal with the presentation. The Task Team was to meet with the stakeholders from the Lesotho side. It was intended that the agreement be incorporated into and run, as a pilot, from December 2012 for a period of two years.

There had also been consultation with the Free State Border Control Operational Coordinating Committee (BCOCC), who had indicated that there may be a problem in lack of manpower to enforce the agreement, due to the fact that it was due to operate from December. It was also pointed out that the ANC conference in Mangaung in December meant that SAPS was already fully committed, and was probably not in a position to deploy any more staff to monitor implementation of the cross-border operating model.

Mr Baloyi then set out the outcomes of the consultations with government stakeholders. The following questions had been raised:
- Were the Swaziland borders experiencing similar challenges as the Lesotho border
- What would happen after the Minister had implemented the 21 days special measure, and what was the lasting solution
- What would empower the Minister to declare emergency measures, given the fact that the regulations still needed to be amended
- What would happen if the operators accepted the model as fully viable, and it spread to other provinces, as this would essentially amount to not implementing the CBRT Act strictly
- It was assumed that the Lesotho authorities would accept the proposed model. However, there was a problem in that the commuters would be dropped off outside the border precincts, and not taken through by one operator to their final destination points. This was contrary to the SACU MOU.
- If the South African operators accepted this model, it could imply to Lesotho that it was simply being forced to accept an agreement.

The recommendations were that a draft proposal must still be sent through to Lesotho, to afford its government an opportunity to make input, in addition to the consultation with the stakeholders. It was further recommended that the Department of Trade and Industry must be asked to advise the Task Team of the implications of the proposed model upon the SACU MOU. The South African High Commission in Lesotho should be asked to support and to assist in lobbying for acceptance of the model in Lesotho. Other recommendations were that, in order to solicit further inputs from all affected and key stakeholders, a parallel consultation process should be undertaken with the affected municipalities regarding the management of the ranking facilities. Finally, it must be noted that there was not yet congruence between the model and the ultimate objective.

The outcomes of the consultations with the Lesotho Transport Ministry, specifically the questions and concerns raised, were then discussed. The actual logistics of crossing the border must be taken into account. Lesotho felt that the ranking facility must be a designated facility. It was felt that although South Africa could legislate around the model, there was the problem that the model still violated the SACU MOU, which had defined point A and B in the respective countries. The Lesotho Ministry requested that it be allowed an opportunity to consult also with the Lesotho departments dealing with revenue services, home affairs, and foreign affairs. Questions were raised as to who the legitimate representatives were of cross-border operators in Lesotho. There were issues around recognition of two other associations, which were being addressed by the Minister and the Permanent Secretary in Lesotho, after meeting with the Lesotho Passenger Transport Commuters Association (LPTCA).

Another question was raised around the proposal for donation of the Cross Border Permits System (worth about R2 million) by CBRTA to Lesotho. It was concerned that this was a large amount and appropriate arrangements had to be made. A sum of around R600 000 would be needed for the development of the cross border transport policy, and this task was found daunting. There were also concerns about the visibility of the DOT, and the need to guard against information gaps and inconsistencies between CBRTA and DOT when engaging with Lesotho, such as the need to take into account all infrastructure projects, and the Kroonstad to Maseru connection and road link. 

Mr Baloyi said that it was suggested that Lesotho should commit to finalising these extra consultations by the end of December. Lesotho had originally requested a week to internally discuss and report back on an agreed system during December or peak periods. Joint circulars would have to be issued to law enforcement agencies regarding the arrangements on the ground during the December peak period. It was recognised that although there were currently three associations on cross-border business in Lesotho, for the moment only the LPTCA should be recognised until full structures were put in place on cross border permits. The Task Team would have to facilitate a meeting between South African and Lesotho operators that included government representation, to immediately get a sense of whether the proposals could be implemented. There was a need to guard against fraudulent hand written permits, and CBRTA had engaged two interns to develop a web based system to print new permits, whilst continuing to explore the implementation of the CBRTA-donated system. Southern African Customs Union (SACU) had to be consulted as well.

The policy should take three months to develop and further consultations would be held on it.

Mr Baloyi said that in order to get successful implementation, all inter- and intra-provincial operators had to acquire cross border permits.  In addition, all operators that fell within the definition of cross-border road transport were to apply for cross-border permits. This dispensation did not apply to cross-border bus carriers. Special emergency measures were needed to be recorded in new Section 46A Regulations.

Mr Baloyi concluded that the Task Team believed that it was still faced with challenges around lack of full buy-in from some South African and Lesotho stakeholders. To address this problem, the Task Team had again visited Lesotho on 16 November, to give a further briefing and they were asked to continue their consultations internally, to try to make the proposals into a workable solution. It was agreed that in the peak period, a joint circular should be issued to all affected law enforcement agencies, setting out what had been agreed upon to date. Finally, time was needed for Lesotho to finalise all consultations, until end-December, and for the necessary legislative amendments.

The Chairperson reminded the CBRTA and Department of Transport that the Committee needed to be kept abreast of any updated joint initiatives and agreements.

Ms L Mabija (ANC, Limpopo) questioned what exactly would be done in the festive season

Mr M Jacobs (ANC, Free State) did not see that this presentation was in fact proposing any immediate solutions. In a previous meeting, the Department of Transport had informed the Committee that the new arrangements would come into operation on 18 November. It was already December, and still there were only discussions. He emphasised that this was the peak season for taxi operators, and a solution had to be found for the festive season.

Ms M Themba (ANC, Mpumalanga) also expressed her disappointment that the presentation actually did not set out any solutions, particularly to cater for the demand over the festive season, and this problem had been raised also during “Taking Parliament to the People”. She emphasised that the DOT and its agencies had to take this Committee seriously, and suggested that perhaps the meeting should adjourn while the DOT actually prepared a statement of what solutions would be implemented.

Mr H Groenewald (DA, North West) agreed with Ms Themba. He wanted to know which people still needed to be consulted, noting that nothing should be presented if anybody had been left out. He did not think it wise to leave the taxi operators to negotiate with each other. He also felt the government of Lesotho and others should be involved in such meetings.

Ms Mabija said this presentation had not given what the Members had wanted – namely the solutions, particularly in the short term, and said that Members had to hear this before Parliament rose.

The Chairperson reiterated that the MEC for Transport in Free State had had to tender an apology, because an urgent Executive meeting had been called after the death of the MEC for Health in that province.

The Chairperson wanted to check that there had been communication with the taxi operators, said that some stakeholders were not mentioned in the list, and wanted to know who, specifically, was involved from the side of the Task Team and taxi associations. He also emphasised that systems needed to talk to each other while the key actors were the operators.

Mr Daki Qumbu, Chairperson, South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO), said that he had not seen the document presented now. He was disappointed because he did not think that any real solutions were being proposed; instead it was taking the process backwards. He pleaded that the Free State operators be assisted in protecting their business, but felt that no clear-cut way of addressing the problems had been presented.

An official from the RSA / Lesotho Corridor confirmed that there was a meeting, on 18  November, with cross border operators and the provinces. A formal written statement of their position had been submitted to the DOT, DIRCO, the Presidency and CBRTA. He would also provide that to the Committee.  

The Chairperson noted that the operators should not be shy of approaching the Members, who were the legislators.

Ms Mabija again stressed the need for a statement that would set out the solution, before Parliament rose.

Mr Jacobs agreed that the time for debating was overdue and solutions were needed.

The Chairperson suggested a short adjournment for 15 minutes, to enable the DOT to compile and present the information.

Mr George Mahlalela, Director General, Department of Transport, did not see the need for an adjournment, saying that he already had the information.

The Chairperson still said that an adjournment for 15 minutes was necessary, and stressed that although the Committee Members might be few in number, there were fine minds behind that, and said that an apology was needed from the Director General for the comment and the way in which it was conveyed.

Mr Mahlalela apologised if he had in any way offended Members, as this was not his intention.

The Chairperson accepted that, and emphasised that a good spirit was needed.

Mr Mahlalela said that he wanted to stress that there was a problem, in that the legislative framework and the economic realities were in conflict. The core of the problem was that taxi operators in the Free State did not believe they were participating equally in the economic opportunities. It was critical that all stakeholders should participate in the process of finding a solution to the problem. Full buy-in was needed to prevent some people from trying to undermine the legal framework.

Mr Mahlalela confirmed that the process of consultations, with both taxi operators and the government of Lesotho, was not completed, as many state organisations were involved. Although the DOT was on the verge of getting complete buy-in from all the stakeholders, but this did not necessarily mean there would be intensive investment in the process. The ability of the SAPS to enforce would be overstretched in the festive season, partially due to the ANC Conference at Mangaung, but there was a real need to strengthen their ability to avoid any situations developing, and this remained a challenge. The medium-term solutions were the agreements with the operators and transitional licensing rights. Over the long term,  institutions that could finally resolve these problems would be set up in all the SADC countries. He reiterated that the Department was on the verge of finding a solution, and the Task Team had done an excellent job to get the process as far as it was at present.

Mr Khumalo also noted the complex nature of the process. There was, however, no single agreement on one possible way through the problem. There were sensitivities, particularly given the differing views. The best way was to ensure that there was buy-in from the affected parties to whatever could be arranged; it would not be a solution to impose a regime that did not take into account all the differing views. Whatever dispensation was made, it needed maximum support. He commented that perhaps the DOT had been over-ambitious when it had initially expected the process to be concluded by November. He respected the interests of the Members in their relevant constituencies but requested their indulgence on this matter.

The Chairperson summarised the main concerns. Members were worried about the lack of short-term solutions, as against too much emphasis on reaching a long-term solution. DOT had to recognise that it could not simply rely on the SAPS and law enforcement to sort out any problems, and it would not have to do this if it actually took the operators fully on board. Whilst the Mangaung Conference was cited, this was only one week, and he wanted to know what arrangements were in place after that. He asked who had been involved on the Special Dispensation team. He thought the Department was moving too fast, and was not ensuring that everyone, including the Members of this Committee, was fully informed and in agreement. Facts were needed, to get solutions. Whilst Members recognised and respected the work of the DOT to date, the operators must be taken on board, and real solutions were needed for the festive season. Operators should not forget also that although they may first have raised their problems with the National Assembly Committee, it was the NCOP who ended up in ensuring that issues were addressed. Taxi operators were depending on the DOT. The DOT had to put in place proper systems for monitoring this huge business, and the associations had to be taken on board.

Mr Qumbu welcomed the summary of the Chairperson. He agreed fully that short-term solutions were needed. One of the most serious concerns was that anybody could apply for a cross-border permit, and would then proceed to operate on the routes of those who made cross-border transport their business. This must stop. He requested that operation from the Lesotho taxi ranks should continue. He felt it was unfair to portray the Free State and other operators as pitted against each other, when in fact this was not the case, and there was often good cooperation.

The official from the RSA / Lesotho Corridor agreed that solutions had to be found, by engagement between government, Parliament and the associations. Some issues rested in the domain of the Free State, the national government or the cross-border agencies. There was a real need to avoid violent conflict and the operators needed to be brought on board to find amicable solutions in a short space of time.

An official from the Free State said that although there had been “ some unsavoury comments”  about its role, this was not true and Free State had in fact done all the consultation it was supposed to, as backed up with evidence sent through to the Committee. He highlighted that meetings were held between Free State government, DOT and the CBRTA. He proposed that, in the immediate future and short term, the current situation at the borders, as provided for in the Special Dispensation described in September, should prevail, with work continuing to find a longer-term solution.

The Chairperson thought consultation with the associations could surely not be so difficult, and it should be simple to find a short-term solution. This was very important to the Committee.

Ms Mabija thought the meeting should be closed.

Mr Jacobs said the objectives for calling for the meeting were not met, and there was no interim solution presented.

The Chairperson agreed that this was so, but felt that the situation was under control. The Department of Transport was, he felt, on the right track and now needed to proceed as set out. The Free State must take the resolutions in the Special Dispensation on board.

Ms Themba wanted a time frame for a further report, and the Chairperson asked that this must be sent within the next 14 days, although Mr Jacobs suggested that seven days was needed.

Ms Themba wanted to know the exact details of the short term plans, before Members left for the recess.

The Chairperson said the information would be provided to the Committee Secretary and documentation could be checked by the legal support team

The meeting was adjourned.

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