Update on Task Team efforts to resolve RSA/Lesotho Passenger Transport Operations

NCOP Public Services

21 October 2013
Chairperson: Mr M Sibande (ANC; Mpumalanga)
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Meeting Summary

The Cross-Border Road Transport Agency (CBRTA), an entity of the National Department of Transport (NDoT), briefed the Committee on the task team’s efforts to resolve the long-standing dispute involving RSA/Lesotho Passenger Transport Operations.

The cross-border dispute between the two countries had surfaced in 1998, when the CBRTA had been established, and had resulted in a profusion of illegal taxi rank facilities located at various ports of entry, impeding the flow of passenger traffic.  This had led to congestion, compromising border control operations and security integrity.  

In an attempt to diffuse the ensuing violence, normalisation initiatives had been undertaken, including the creation of a special dispensation model.   The feasibility of the model depended on the establishment of clear rules and timelines.  The model needed to conform with the South African Customs Union Agreement (SACUA) and its Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). In 2012, the task team had undertaken efforts to put in place a mechanism/plan that would contain the violence between the two borders, but it had failed to develop an action plan that would ensure implementation of the model from December 2012, and had failed to address the legal compliance process.

A team responsible for keeping the Committee updated had been set up, and they had managed to draft a model that would streamline conflict resolution. The team took into consideration operators’ suggestions, the feasibility based on legal prescripts and various factors raised during stakeholder engagements.  Provincial operators suggested that control of cross-border permits needed to be gazetted to prevent duplication, and current operators with permits needed to be acknowledged.  Cross-border operators suggested that it was important to include those that were interested in cross-border operations, without disrupting their inter- and intra-provincial operations.

Through the verification process, the Department had been able to establish six problem areas causing the ongoing conflict at the border.  These were:

• Dual Authority. Operators were “double dipping” -- doing both inter- and intra-provincial operations, as well as cross-border operations -- with the same vehicle. 
• Leased Vehicles. Operators who had cross-border permits, but their vehicles were not registered in their names. 
• Shared Registration. Operators who had more than one cross-border permit on the same vehicle, and who were using vehicles not registered in their names, but with permits linked to those vehicles.
• Cross-Border Operators. Operators had cross-border permits, but were not listed on inter- or intra- provincial operations, and their vehicles could not be picked up on the e-Natis system.
• Inter- and Intra-Provincial Operators. Operators within this category breached the 2km radius, as per the NTLA and CBRTA Act, and mixed local and cross-border passengers in one vehicle, which also violated the provisions of the Acts.
• Domestic Permits with unauthorised destinations to border towns. Operators with cross-border permits were transporting passengers to Lesotho, but dropping passengers at border towns.

Despite normalisation efforts, the Department was still facing continuing challenges. There were still incidents of violence occurring, where vehicles were being burned, smashed and stoned. As a way forward, the Department was recommending that the Committee consider engaging a neutral body to investigate the matter, and detach both the CBRTA and the Free State Department of Transport from the process of identifying a solution.

Members expressed concern at the apparent lack of trust between officials of the Department.  Why had the activities of the task team come to a standstill?  Why had meetings with key stakeholders not taken place?  Did any officials in the Department have a vested interest in the taxi operations?  The Department needed to revise the report, which contained contradictory statements, and present it again.
Since 2010, there had been no improvement in its ability to resolve the cross-border conflict.  It seemed like the Committee was being taken for granted and the seriousness of the matter was not being registered.  As a whole the Department was failing to implement its proposals. As a Committee, they would not give the Department a chance to respond until it had rectified its errors.  Members agreed that they would give the Department two weeks to produce a better response.
 

Meeting report

Opening Remarks by Chairperson
The Chairperson welcomed the National Department of Transport (NDoT), the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency (CBRTA) and the Free State Provincial Department for Police, Roads and Transport. He said that the Department needed to take the issues raised by the Committee seriously and ensure that it kept the Committee updated on all the activities it had undertaken to try to resolve the passenger transportation challenges between South Africa and Lesotho.

Comments by Department of Transport
Mr Chris Hlabisa, Deputy Director General, (NDoT) said the Department was in the process of restructuring its unit to ensure that it complied with the principles of gender equity and addressed the imbalances of the past.   A task team had been established to address matters raised by the Committee, and would focus on the cross-border transportation conflict between Lesotho and South Africa.   Additional comments had been added at short notice to the original report, which could not be sent to Members ahead of time.  He asked CBRTA to update the Committee on the efforts currently under way.

Briefing by Cross-Border Road Transport Agency
Ms Madumelana Maakana, Senior Manager of CBRTA, said the cross-border dispute between the two countries had surfaced in 1998, when the CBRTA had been established and started regulating market access.  The Free State operators had refused to have a joint venture with a cross-border taxi association in Lesotho (LPTCA), which was recognized as the only cross-border taxi association in the region. The dispute had impeded the flow of passenger traffic, and illegal taxi rank facilities located at various ports of entry had proliferated and impeded the flow of passenger traffic.  This had led to congestion, compromising border control operations and security integrity.

In 2012/13, the Department had proposed a special dispensation model. The feasibility of the model depended on the establishment of clear rules and timelines.  The model needed to conform to the South African Customs Union Agreement (SACUA) and its Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). In 2012 the task team had undertaken efforts to put in place a mechanism/plan that would contain the violence between the two borders, but it had failed to develop an action plan that would ensure implementation of the model from December 2012, and had failed to address the legal compliance process.

The Select Committee had mandated the NDoT to intervene in leading the task team to review its strategies on order to achieve its objectives. The review process saw the involvement of the Member of Executive Council (MEC) for Roads, Transport and Police, CBRTA and the NDoT.   Meetings were held where taxi operators were invited to share their challenges and provide possible solutions.  The review process included workshops which weighed proposals in terms of the legal instruments and devised plans on how the normalisation process needed to unfold.  Although meetings were held to streamline the process of conflict resolution, the frequent unavailability of key members had slowed down the process.

A team responsible for keeping the Committee updated was set up, and they had managed to draft a model that would streamline conflict resolution. The team took into consideration operators’ suggestions, the feasibility based on legal prescripts and various factors raised during the engagements. Although the new model had not yet been presented to the MEC and operators, the model was developed after the verification process was completed, with an understanding that even if there were changes in numbers, operator categories were all covered.  

Provincial operators suggested that control of cross-border permits needed to be gazetted to prevent duplication, and current operators with permits needed to be acknowledged.  The team noted that the feasibility and legal implications of implementing such a provision would be possible if operators plying their trade within a 2km radius of the border obtained operating licenses and cross border permits, as determined by the National Land Transport Act (NTLA). Cross-border operators suggested that it was important to include those that were interested in cross-border operations, without disrupting their inter- and intra-provincial operations. It was noted that the feasibility of such a proposal, based on the legal implications, would involve the issuing of inter- and intra-provincial permits.

Through the verification process, the Department had been able to establish six problem areas causing the ongoing conflict at the border.  These were:

• Dual Authority. Operators were “double dipping” -- doing both inter- and intra-provincial operations, as well as cross-border operations -- with the same vehicle.  A total of 31 vehicles had been identified. The Department proposed that operators needed to choose which operation they would do with one vehicle. They would need to acquire an additional vehicle for a second operation, and would be stopped immediately if found double dipping.

• Leased Vehicles. Operators who had cross-border permits, but their vehicles were not registered in their names.  A total of 15 vehicles were identified. The Department proposed that the CBRTA needed to stop issuing permits to operators who did not have vehicles registered in their names. Once permits had expired, the CBRTA would no longer issue temporary permits to operators who leased vehicles from other operators.

• Shared Registration. Operators who had more than one cross-border permit on the same vehicle, and who were using vehicles not registered in their names, but with permits linked to those vehicles. A total of 8 vehicles were found. The Department proposed that the CBRTA would no longer issue temporary permits to this category.

• Cross-Border Operators. Operators had cross-border permits, but were not listed on inter- or intra- provincial operations, and their vehicles could not be picked up on the e-Natis system. A total of 27 vehicles were identified. The Department proposed that operators should be able to conduct cross-border operations from RSA to Lesotho without hindrance.

• Inter- and Intra-Provincial Operators. Operators within this category breached the 2km radius, as per the NTLA and CBRTA Act, and mixed local and cross-border passengers in one vehicle, which also violated the provisions of the Acts. The Department proposed that the CBRTA needed to amend regulations and legislate for a differentiated tariff structure to accommodate this category, and all concerned operators needed to apply for a cross-border permit.

• Domestic Permits with unauthorised destinations to border towns. Operators with cross-border permits were transporting passengers to Lesotho, but dropping passengers at border towns. The Department proposed that there should be no dropping or picking up of passengers in controlled areas, and operators needed to choose which operations they wanted to be a part of.

Despite normalisation efforts, the Department was still facing continuing challenges. There were still incidents of violence occurring, where vehicles were being burned, smashed and stoned. As a way forward, the Department was recommending that the Committee consider engaging a neutral body to investigate on the matter, and detach both the CBRTA and Free State Transport from the process of identifying a solution.

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked Ms Maakana and asked the Department if it had any other additions before Committee members raised their questions.

Mr Tumelo Phahlo Chief Director, Free State Provincial Department of Transport, said that a member of the Department had a recording device and was using it, which he was not authorised to do.  This act was a breach of trust, and if the individual required a recording of what transpired during the meeting, there were an assortment of stakeholders and media who had the meeting on record.

The Chairperson stated that during the meeting, all bodies present needed to avoid conflict and focus on the issue at hand.

Mr Butana Komphela, MEC for Police, Roads and Transport, Free State Provincial Government, said that the additional comments added to the report by the other Department member were not synchronised, and Committee Members  -- and he himself – had not been made aware of the additions ahead of time.  He said CBRTA needed to realize the seriousness of the cross-border issue between South Africa and Lesotho, and understand if it wanted to stop the loss of life, the RSA/Lesotho Passenger Transport Operations needed to stop.

Mr Hlabisa said the issue between RSA and Lesotho was a work in progress, and would take time to resolve. The additional comments in the report were an attempt to include all the concerns raised by Department members, but he was aware that there was a lack of synchronicity between the additional comments and the findings presented in the original form of the report.

The Chairperson stated that people were dying in the Free State, and the Committee needed to ensure that the Department did not deviate from the seriousness of the matter at hand.

Ms L Mabija (ANC, Limpopo) said that during the Department’s consultations with taxi operators in trying to adopt normalisation initiatives, some operators had not been consulted. In regard to the six categories identified, she asked if there were members from the administration or political parties who owned taxis within those categories. If senior officials owned taxis, and were involved in the cross-border business, conflict resolution would be difficult, due to their vested interests.  It was problematic that the Department had added additional comments to the original report, which essentially meant it had two reports. She asked how the Committee could measure progress when it had to refer to two reports.

Mr H Groenewald (DA, North West) said the Department showed there was a lack of trust between officials.   This was problematic, because it fostered an environment where tasks would not get completed appropriately.  The Department needed to revise the report it had presented to the Committee, because a lot of the issues mentioned were problematic. He asked how large the task team working on the cross-border issue was, which stakeholders were involved and whether Lesotho was as involved as South Africa in trying to resolve the issue.  As a country South Africa should not take decisions for other countries. He wanted clarification on why the new model had not been presented to the MEC, why activities of the task team had come to standstill, and why necessary meetings had not been conducted due to the unavailability of key members.  He wanted more clarification on operators plying their trade within a 2km radius
 
Mr Z Mlenzana (COPE, Eastern Cape) said the presentation given was not a collective effort, and there seemed to be a lot of contradictory statements.  He asked if the proposed Special Dispensation Model was still in draft form, since the government of the Free State was not on board with what had been presented.  Some of the proposed operations were contradicting each other.  The proposed solution in category 5 was contradicting those in category 1 and 2.   When cross-border operators had reported matters to the High Court in Bloemfontein, to challenge the legality of the decision to shut down cross-border operations, it meant that as a government agency, CBRTA had entered into a legal battle with another government entity.  In moving forward the Department had suggested that both the CBRTA and Free State be detached from the process of identifying a solution.   This seemed to imply that the CBRTA was saying to the Committee that Parliament needed to review the matter, since the Department was unable to deal with the objectives it had been mandated to deal with.  The CBRTA was abusing pieces of legislation, and the only way for the Department to function properly was if it admitted that there were problems in its legislative mandate, and as Parliament, the Committee could seek to solve those issues.

Mr M Jacobs (ANC, Free State) said it was clear that the CBRTA legislation needed to be changed. He was disappointed in the report and would have liked to see some of the short-term solutions CBRTA could have implemented. The models currently in implementation to resolve border conflict were not performing adequately.  There needed to be effective long term solutions which would result in permanent conflict eradication. It was also important that all stakeholders were included during the consultation process. On the issue of a Department member recording a colleague, it was unethical for an official to come in and record what was said in the House.

He asked if there was another taxi association which controlled the movements of operations, as well as the number of passengers moving from Lesotho to Johannesburg.   This would give an indication on how many taxi operators were operating, and would also limit the number of unverified operators. There were a lot of internal issues facing the CBRTA, and a review needed to be done on the Department itself and its employees. When permits were issued, receivers needed to be present to acknowledge whether the permits being given, had been agreed to.   A plan was needed for the festive season, and it was imperative that greediness be put aside, as too many lives were being put at risk because the Department was lacking the right systems.

Ms M Themba (ANC, Mpumalanga) said the cross border-issue had escalated drastically since 2004 and as a collective; they had thought the Department would have already resolved this issue.  It was problematic that an Honourable Member from the Free State had not been made aware of the Proposed Special Dispensation Model -- as a Department, it did not take time to compile a coherent report. The Department needed to let the Committee know if it wanted a new board to be put in place. The Department needed to put monitoring measures in place.  She said the delegation needed to be sent back and allowed to return when it got its facts right.

The Chairperson said it was important that the Department produced honest people.   Since 2010, there had been no improvement in its ability to resolve the cross-border conflict.  It seemed like the Committee was being taken for granted and the seriousness of the matter was not being registered.  If there were any officials who had personal interest in the taxi operations, they needed to let the Committee know. The Department had failed to inform the Committee of its failed meetings, and apologies had also never been provided.   It was unfortunate that the Department acted only when violence erupted, and instead of protecting the institution, it was not taking it seriously. As a whole the Department was incapable of conducting its duties, and was failing to implement its proposals. As a Committee, they would not give the Department a chance to respond until it had rectified its errors. He asked Committee members to provide the Department with a time frame.

Members agreed that they would give the Department two weeks to produce a better response.

Mr Hlabisa said he appreciated the positive criticism from the Committee, and the report would be consolidated and cleaned up.

A member from the Free State Taxi Operators’ Association said there were conflicting operations at the border.  Before 1998 there had been no violence in the region, but violence had started with the inception of the CBRTA programme. As operators, they wanted agreements that would enable them to operate peacefully.

Mr Komphela said there would never be a push for economic benefits at the expense of people’s lives. It was important to ensure that the issue of cross-border violence was dealt with, so that harmony could prevail. 

The meeting was adjourned.
 

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