Update on Task Team efforts to resolve Free State – Lesotho cross border challenges that impact on road transport services

NCOP Public Services

28 January 2014
Chairperson: Mr M Sibande (ANC, Mpumalanga)
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Meeting Summary

The Select Committee was briefed by the Department of Transport as part of the Task Team on Efforts to resolve the RSA-Lesotho Passenger Transport Operation. The Task Team consisted of the Department of Transport, the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency (C-BRTA) and the Free State Provincial Department of Police, Roads and Transport.
The Committee questioned the delegation at the meeting and asked if all the stakeholders who were involved in the initial meetings when the Committee had requested interim measures were present. The Committee expressed concern because this was the second time that interim measures had been requested and the Minister, the Director-General and the MEC were absent from the delegation. It was also concerning that many of the dates were near to the end of the year and there was uncertainty about the attitudes towards implementation when new officials were brought on board.

The Committee’s request to hear from all role players was complied with as the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency, South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO), Free State Provincial Department of Police, Roads and Transport, and the National Department of Transport made inputs. SANTACO explained that there was not total satisfaction with what was being presented. Economic empowerment was bypassing the organisation because the issuance of permits as per the Cross-Border Transport Act allowed for the oversaturation of the market especially in cross border towns. Violence had also erupted around the permit issue because those operators were flooding the routes. Committee Members were told that taxi operators felt encouraged with regard to the verification as only 27 vehicles were qualified to do cross border work. Members insisted that the clauses selected for review or amendment be outlined and presented to all stakeholders. Double dipping was explained and the reason why this practice had to be halted was given. The Committee was heartened to hear that a database existed which listed all permit holders. The Task Team requested that names of interprovincial permit holders be presented so that those flooding the market could be identified and exposed.

The Committee felt that the meeting had quelled some of the negativity around the issue and created some ease around cross border operations. A Member from the Northern Cape told the Committee that there was a need to release a statement on the progress made so far.

Meeting report

Opening remarks by the Chairperson
The Chairperson stated that this meeting was long overdue. It had been requested by the Committee to assess the progress report in terms of the problems encountered in the Free State regarding the cross-border issue and the surrounding work happening there. The Chairperson acknowledged apologies from the Office of the Minister of Transport, the Free State MEC for Police, Roads and Transport and the Director-General of the Department of Transport who was on leave.

Briefing on the Progress Report on Efforts to Resolve RSA/Lesotho Passenger Transport Operation
Adv Tumelo Phahlo, a Chief Director in the Free State Department of Transport said this was a joint presentation prepared by the Task Team dealing with the Free State – Lesotho cross border challenges that impact on road transport services. The key elements for success in the Model used to resolve the impasse were: the restoration of law and order; the implementation of verification outcomes; transition window; legislative review; and special emergency measures. The practice of double dipping had to be stopped with immediate effect and shared registrations were discontinued.

The Implementation Plan had as key elements: the restoration of law and order; the implementation of verification findings; the transition window; legislation window and special dispensation measures.

In conclusion, Adv Phahlo said the proposed model was presented to the MEC on 16 January 2014 and to Taxi Operators on 19 January 2014. The MEC commended the team and gave the approach his blessing. The matter was due for presentation to both Freetrans executive and the C-BRTA Regulatory Committee.

Ms L Mabija (ANC, Limpopo) asked who was invited to the presentation and if everyone who was supposed to be present was in attendance.

Mr M Jacobs (ANC, Free State) said he did not know what to say as this was the second time that interim measures were requested. He was worried about the composition of the delegation because the Committee had requested that Minister, the MEC, and the Deputy Director-General be part of the meeting but they were all not present.

Mr Jacobs said if the legislation had to be changed then the clauses that had to be amended should have been given to the Committee. He asked if there was centralised information in the Department and the provinces. What was going to happen with regard to the current impasse, as the programme of action of the task team had not dealt with this? How was the permit issue going to be handled?

Mr H Groenewald (DA, North West) asked when implementation and the roll out were going to take place and who the responsible persons were. He said many of the dates were near to the end of year and there would be new people after the elections. He was concerned about what the attitude would be towards the implementation. He asked if the infighting would continue across the borders.

Mr R Tau (ANC, Northern Cape) said that an important point was being missed and that Ms Mabija was on the right track. The progress report from the last meeting was missing. He referred to the issue that Ms Mabija had raised about the proposed model presented to Taxi Operators under bullet two in the Conclusion. He asked if those operators were present in this meeting.

The Chairperson said all the Members would be given a chance to express themselves to ensure proper consultation. The process would be allowed to unfold. There was a need to hear from the Taxi Operators to make sure that they were on board.

Ms M Themba (ANC, Mpumalanga) said there was a need to hear from all role players and stakeholders. The implementation outcomes had been presented and this was a lot of information.  She gave the example of double dipping. The legislation that needed review had to be raised including the clauses. She asked if the people who raised the issues were present.

The Chairperson asked South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) to provide an input.

Mr D Veldman (COPE, Gauteng) said the Committee should have been put on board with regards to what happened during the festive season. This document had been ‘cleaned’ meaning that all ‘unnecessary’ issues were not brought in. If the so-called ‘dirty’ things were brought back, it would allow for an honest picture. The Committee had to be updated on litigation matters.

Input from SANTACO
Mr Daki Qumbu, Chairperson, SANTACO, said it was a privilege for SANTACO to be part of the meeting because the matters which were raised affected SANTACO directly. He confirmed that consultations had taken place. Taxi Operators had been consulted about the document and had participated in coming to some of the resolutions contained herein. Consultations took place on Friday the 17th January 2014.  The Committee Members had raised concerns about operators and it had to be said that the other members had indicated that they were SANTACO members.  It was important to note that SANTACO was present in all the consultations.

In the first consultation, the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency (C-BRTA) had tended their apology. It was indicated at this meeting that there was not total satisfaction with what was presented. The next Task Team meeting was scheduled and convened for Sunday the 19th January 2014. Unfortunately, the RSA - Lesotho Corridor Committee did not attend and it was made clear beforehand that they would not attend. This affected SANTACO operators in the Free State and the cross border towns in particular. Economic empowerment was just bypassing SANTACO and by issuing those permits as per the Cross-Border Road Transport Act, the market had become oversaturated.

Mr Qumbu stated that he was sure the Committee was in agreement that people no longer made the money they used to and this contributed to the violence. It had been said all along that the flooding of routes led to violence. The Cross-Border Agency was responsible for this by issuing permits that were actually flooding routes that had been there all along.
The document did not address everything but Taxi Operators felt encouraged especially with regard to the verification, where although SANTACO was not part of this process, only 27 vehicles were qualified to do cross border work. There were more than 200 vehicles doing cross border work, and this was the cause of the problem. SANTACO had hoped to get rid of the 27 vehicles because in the report only eight vehicles had permits and some were temporary, but a compromise was issued and the situation would be handled.

With regard to Inter and Intra provincial operators, the statistics or numbers were not specified. SANTACO would appreciate it if the numbers were specified, then it would be evident when more people were using these routes and over loading the already flooded market.

In conclusion, SANTACO was consulted, and had made inputs, and was happy with things as they were. Progress had been made and there was faith that all needs would be met.

The Chairperson asked if there were any additional inputs from taxi operators.

Mr Seabata Nkatane, Secretary of the Madiboho Transport Forum made a point of exigency. There was an understanding that the operators were the main people in this meeting. They were the ones who had brought this matter to everyone’s attention. They were travelling from Qwa Qwa and had gotten lost. They were trying to find their way to the venue to attend this meeting. Mr Nkatane proposed that these people be located and the meeting stopped for a few minutes to allow them to attend. 

An official from SANTACO said the people who had not yet arrived were not the opposition.

Mr Jacobs said that it would be better if all the stakeholders who were involved at the start of the process were at the meeting.

The Chairperson said people from the Taxi Association had taken the Department to court.

Ms Mabija said the Chairperson was being too defensive and this might give the impression that something was being covered up. The meeting might then be viewed negatively. The purpose of the meeting was to share ideas and find ways to save the situation.

The Chairperson requested that the presentation be the focus of the meeting and that people who had just arrived be given the opportunity to introduce themselves.

Mr Isak Vrees and one other person from the Fouriesburg Taxi Association and Mr Ben Motchesela from another taxi association introduced themselves to the meeting.

Mr Nkatane said cross border operations had created some negativity, but he was thankful for today as the presentation was given to everyone. Clarity was needed on some of the issues in the presentation. The Committee Members had asked about other operators. Numerous meetings were held and the Johannesburg Corridor Members joined one of the meetings and were denied entry. The C-BRTA could respond to this matter. The Free State had lodged a complaint to Parliament. The same people took the Madiboho Transport Forum to court, and this was why they were unable to attend this meeting as they were attending court today. Interim measures were not put in place in December.

Mr Nkatane said in the model for resolving the impasse, 27 vehicles had been identified. It was important to know who the people doing Interprovincial work and duplicating routes were.

Mr Tau said it was not necessary to apologise for members being arrested, it would have been better to express anger. Apologies were not needed in this situation. There was no need for violence because a process had been put in place. What was presented today gave a sense of hope. It was unfortunate that the Deputy Director-General was absent because he could have explained what preventative measures had been put in place. This was a ‘wake-up’ call for the Department so that it could be prepared and start to move forward. This report did show that there was movement in the right direction and towards resolution.  

Mr Jacobs said that it was good to get input from the taxi operators. The RSA-Lesotho Cross-Border Committee was not addressed in the presentation, and they were taken to court. The C-BRTA won the case and made an apology on their behalf. There was also the violence that had occurred in December 2013.  

The Chairperson apologised to Members for the omissions. He said he was uncertain and demoralised and did not know how to approach the situation. Members of the taxi association had tried to phone him but he had lost his cell phone and some of the telephone numbers. He was pleased that a major concern, the taxi operators, was given the opportunity to raise their concerns and there were fewer tensions today.  Mr Groenewald was correct in that gadgets were being used here and the proceedings were being recorded, so records were being kept.  He was pleased that some of the issues of concern had been covered. There was now an understanding of consultation and compliance. The Act did not cover everything. Synergy in law and order was important. The Director-General had to make sure things were implemented. Some of the systems were not talking to each other and entries that dealt with dates for action were not listed. Measures had to be implemented to ensure that taxi operators were complying as nobody was above the law.
There were allegations that the police escorted certain people. This had to be verified. He was pleased that there was participation and in this way more information was disseminated.
In a previous meeting the Director-General was saying that the situation was so tense and some matters should be taken to the Hawks. Life was important and those involved in bad activities should be brought to book. There was a need for progress and peace.

Mr Msondezi Futshane, Acting Deputy Director-General of the Department of Transport said it was possible that problems might erupt in other areas where there were cross border operations. The task team should consider expanding the scope of operations and look at ways to diffuse negative situations.

Mr Sipho Khumalo, Cross-Border Rail Transport Agency CEO said all affected parties had been consulted. Some had opted not to be part of this process. The C-BRTA had done its best and had invited everyone.  The intention was to maintain the involvement of everyone who had been involved on the 17th and 19th of January 2014.

Ms Glenda Serero, a Director at the Department of Transport said the relationship between the agency and operators was an administrative facilitative relationship with operators, particularly cross border permit holders.  Her office was responsible for operator relations, and the RSA-Lesotho Corridor Committee’s office was facilitated by the agency. It was a conglomeration of various associations whose members were operating between Lesotho and the Free State in RSA. The reason why that committee was formed was because there were six committees on that route. These were committees between South Africa and neighboring countries which also included Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. There were many associations, and as an example there was a route that had about 47 associations. So there were many similar grievances. Route committees therefore assisted in handling many of the issues being dealt with at association level, which had escalated to the route committee. The route committee then engaged with the agency. When operators were unhappy with a middleman, they came directly to the agency. The Department preferred to engage with route committee and if this failed then operators could be engaged with directly.

With regard to Mr Jacobs question, information could have been gotten from the agency. An instance was sited where operators came to the agency after September when they had already lodged a case. They told the Speaker: ‘today we literally came to uplift permits so that we can use this as evidence in courts’. The agency issued us with permits and it was claimed they were against the law, why was the agency issuing a permit if it was not legal’. At this point, the agency was taken to court.

Ms Serero confirmed what the Mr Khumalo had said. Everyone was invited and they took a decision in September 2013 after a vehicle was torched. This resulted in the matter being taken to court and the lack of confidence in the task team. Now if the association received any invitation, they did not respond as they wanted to handle the matter the legal way.

Mr Madumala Maakana of the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency said he would just provide greater clarity in alignment with what the previous speaker said and the questions raised by Mr Jacobs on whether the agency was a friend of the court or whether it provided certain documents to those Route Committees to take the Department to court. It was important to note that when the Route Committee engaged in litigation, it also cited the agency as the respondent. So the agency neither supported nor opposed the application. What it did was to file an affidavit indicating the mandate of the agency and the instruments used to regulate cross border road transport. It was also indicated in the affidavit that the agency would abide by any decision of the court. So there was never an endeavour to oppose the application or support the application. 

Adv Phahlo said that he would attempt a summation of the issues raised. The team humbled themselves before the Committee to say that this was an earnest attempt to find a solution. A start was made worlds apart, not only as government and stakeholders outside government, but worlds apart within institutions of government, and the problem could not be diagnosed properly. That was the crux of problem. And the Committee saw through that exercise and more than once sent the Department back. The Free State then started looking at common solutions as entrusted Officials and that was why this was an earnest attempt to find solutions. The presentation was not voluminous. It was a deliberate exercise to make a presentation in a business-like manner. Details could then be given to the Committee if it wanted them and those details had been given as annexures. No attempt was made to hide anything and the intention was to go straight to the issues but guided by Committee and concentrate on the core.  As Members had put it, everyone had turned a corner and looked at things in a uniform manner as government.

There were many clauses which the Department could identify in the Act that had to be amended. For example, the issue related to the 2km radius of the cross-border was not necessarily found in the Cross-Border Act, but found in the National Land Transport Act. It had to be in the founding Act, which was the Cross-Border Act. There were many such issues that could be isolated. Everyone had to come together as a team and find synergy with regard to the Act so that conflicts or gaps in the law could not be exploited. The chief sponsor who was the champion of this exercise was the Department of Transport as it had to take overall responsibility and this team had to be led to ensure implementation on all issues raised.

Adv Phahlo said Members were correct that there was a central database of operators, which fell under the Operating License Administration System (OLAS) and could be retrieved in terms of operators who had been issued with operating licenses on different operating licensing boards. The shortcoming here was that operating licenses had been converted, and some operators still had radius based permits. This information was housed in the provinces and it was important that all provinces should be on board when consultations took place. It was quite a telling issue and there was a document provided that showed every detail such as operators who were double dipping and permits without vehicles.
Unfortunately many things happened during the festive season and the Department was the first to admit that this Committee had issued a caution about bringing intervention measures. For example, meetings were held with the Committee and the MEC in Clarence. Many operators were arrested because of damage to property and the Department could submit an up to date list of current and outstanding litigations and also cases brought against government.
In conclusion, the Department wanted to work as a team. The Committee chastised the Department when there was a meeting on the Friday preceding the 19th January 2014 and everything was rejected. It was then considered necessary to meet over the weekend after the Committee had interacted with the presentation from the Department. As far as that exercise was concerned, the Department was happy.

The Chairperson requested that the Task Team identified the specific changes and clauses that were raised during this interaction and that the Task Team should send specific issues to the National Department Task Team. The team leader should send suggested changes to the Select Committee within 14 days so that the Committee was always informed and it could start to lobby with regard to the review of the legislation. The Chairperson expressed satisfaction as progress was now being made.  The Chairperson was pleased that the participants had controlled themselves regardless of the challenges and were encouraged to continue in the same manner.

Mr Tau said as part of the conclusion there was a need to release a statement on the progress made so far.

The meeting was adjourned.


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