The National Ministerial Task Team (NMTT) presented a briefing on the Republic of South Africa (RSA)/ Lesotho cross border challenges to the Committee. Highlighted in the briefing were the results of the oversight visit of the Committee, the NMTT model to mitigate the impasse, recommendations arising from meeting with the Minister of Transport, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Head of Department (HOD) plans in implementing Ministerial directives, NMTT proposed way forward, as well as the developments thereof.
Dr Leah Mofomme, Executive: Road Transport Inspectorate, Cross Border Road Transport Agency (CBRTA) said that the situation at the border post had been termed an “eye sore” by Committee Members during an oversight visit. In response, the Minister had proposed measures to address this which had proved somewhat effective. The proposals included non-extension of issuance of temporary cross border permits after 18 June 2015, immediate deployment of law enforcement to RSA /Lesotho borders, banning the use of private security companies in public transport operations, establishment of joint route and rank management committees, and engagement of operators at border posts by the task team.
The main concerns of cross border operators were expressed as the issuance of only 26 vehicle permits when a taxi associations were composed of a minimum of 30 members, early implementations of task team recommendations, and frustrations birthed by suspended issuance of permits.
Recent developments witnessed an urgent motion filed against the Minister of Transport by the Cross Border Route Corridor Committee and indications that the Route Committee was still pursuing the matter even though the previous case was dismissed on grounds of technicality.
Members raised concerns about conflicting legislations governing entities which appeared to be hampering them in fulfilling mandates. Other concerns raised were based on the updates of court cases incited by South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO), decongestion of the border, and how the state of security at the border posts would be beefed up. A written progress report would be provided by the Department of Transport within 30 days.
Briefing by the National Ministerial Task Team (NMTT) on the RSA/Lesotho cross boarder challenges
Dr Leah Mofomme, Executive: Road Transport Inspectorate, Cross Border Road Transport Agency (CBRTA) said that the submission covered the oversight visit of the Portfolio Committee on Transport (PCOT), the NMTT model to resolve the impasse, the outcomes of the meeting with the Minister of Transport, the directives birthed from the meeting, the plan of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Head of Department (HOD) to implement the ministerial directives, recommendations by NMTT on the proposed way forward, the latest developments, and conclusions drawn.
The Committee made an oversight visit to the CBRTA (Cross Border Road Transport Agency) on 25th November 2014 in an attempt to acquaint itself with cross border transport operations and challenges between South Africa and Lesotho with emphasis on the Maseru bridge and Ficksburg border posts; and make relevant recommendations on how compliance with law in terms of cross-border movements could be facilitated.
As a result of the Committee oversight visit, it was recommended that a legislative review be conducted to synchronise the CBRT Act and National Land Transport Act (NLTA) with a view to activate the mandate of the CBRTA. It was further recommended that bilateral agreements and monitoring of the implementation of the South African Development Community (SADC) protocol be reviewed, and that the DOT ensured that agreements between Lesotho and South Africa were adhered to.
In response, the DOT lead the CBTRA mandate review process which also tended to strengthen the CBRTA Act. The CBRTA undertook consultations with provinces to align transport policies. The DOT was to drive the process of reviewing founding legislations and the alignment of terms, and to ensure that all concerned parties adhered to the prescriptions of the South African Customs Union (SACU) and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
The NMTT model focused on five key elements for success: the restoration of law and order (launched in 2014 at Frietsburg), implementation of verification outcomes, transition window (requesting all operators to apply for relevant permits), legislative review, and special dispensation to allow the Minister to declare emergency measures when necessary.
The NMTT briefed the Minister of Transport on 20 May 2015 about progress made on resolving the impasse. The Minister voiced her dissatisfaction with the slow progress being made and consequently directed the CEO of the CBRTA and the HOD of the Department of Police, Roads and Transport (PR&T) in the Free State to develop a joint plan with specific actions. The meeting incited recommendations by the Minister which included the CEO providing feedback on engagements with MECs of transport, ensuring the visibility of CEO and HOD working together in unison, developing a collective plan aimed at addressing the impasse in public passenger operations, ensuring harmonious functioning of law enforcement officers on the ground, synergy of cross border and provincial operators to address raised concerns on economic bypass, and the CEO and HOD conducting workshops within the industry to ensure win-win solutions.
The CBRTA CEO engagements with MECs of Transport were to inform MECs of the establishment and purpose of the NMTT and to solicit initial input on potential areas for legislative reforms. The engagements included Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, and the Western Cape. Engagements with the Free State were ongoing.
As a result of engagements, the MECs concurred with and emphasized the need to work together as transport regulators and ensure the alignment of transport policies. Subsequent to this, they also committed to assign relevant officials to participate in future deliberations of the NMTT as and when required. In ensuring the visibility of CEO and HOD working together in unison, strategic interventions had been made. The interventions included the involvement of the South African Police Service (SAPS) Provincial Commissioner by the CEO and HOD, the interaction of the CEO, HOD and SAPS Provincial Commissioner with law enforcement officers, conducting 2 sessions of joint meetings to inform officers about the road shows, opening and closure of training sessions or joint operations, and the CEO and HOD addressing law enforcement stakeholders.
There were also operational interventions inclusive of developing written agreements and guidelines, harmonizing current standard operating procedures, defining joint command structures, sharing operations command centres, and clearly demarcating operational areas. Interventions were also made as a result of the Minister’s directive to ensure harmonious functioning of law enforcement officers on the ground. The interventions included organizing workshops for law enforcement officers on new working methods, joint training opportunities and shared resources, joint street survival team building workshops for law enforcement officers, and development of a code of conduct for all law enforcement officers.
Stakeholder consultations were ongoing and they typically included all operators, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), the Border Management Agency Project Management Office, national and provincial joints (PROVJOINTS), SAPS, and the State Security Agency. Other stakeholders included national and provincial regulatory authorities, local transport planning authorities, and the Ministry of Transport in Lesotho (under the leadership of the Minister).
Looking forward, it was imperative for the Minister to be able to declare special emergency measures to enable the NMTT resolve the impasse at the RSA and Lesotho borders. All operations should commence at designated areas in RSA including Maseru, Maputsoe, Butha Buthe, and Wepener.
Other proposals included: non extension and issuance of temporary cross border permits post 18 June 2015 outside the 26 vehicles that were verified by the verification task team; immediate deployment of law enforcement to RSA and Lesotho borders; banning the use of private security companies or operatives in public transport operations; the establishment of the joint route and rank management committees, and engagement of operators by the task team at the border posts as from 8 June 2015.
Several improvements had already been made as a result of the NMTT recommendations. No temporary cross border permits were issued post 18 June 2015 asides the verified 26 vehicles. The NMTT consulted with RSA operators on 26 June 2015 and recommendations were presented. Free State provincial operators welcomed the presentation and recommendations. Cross-border operators requested a copy of the presentation to apply their mind and engage with SANTACO, and committed to revert to the NMTT within 21 days which lapsed on 17 July 2015 and no response was received.
According to the meeting held on 26 June 2015, the concerns raised by cross border operators were that the NMTT identified only 26 vehicles whilst one taxi association was composed of a minimum of 30 members, some recommendations presented by the task team had already been implemented, people were frustrated and put out of business due to suspended issuing of permits, and that they preferred the presence of the MEC and SANTACO president in the meeting.
A meeting held between the NMTT and the Minister of Transport on 6th July 2015 was initiated by the need to report back and present the joint plan. The Minister expressed her appreciation about the report and the supported implementation plan. The Minister emphasized the importance of the synergy of the CBRTA and the Free State as they were both organs of the same government.
A Ministerial directive to the CBRTA Regulatory Committee discontinued issuance of cross border permits as per NMTT recommendations. In response, the regulatory Committee considered the directive on 22 July 2015 and they raised concerns that the directive could provoke unintended consequences if principles of administrative justice were not observed. The NMTT then advised the Minister that the instruction should rather be considered as part of special emergency measures in terms of section 46A of the CBRT Act of 1998 and the NLTA.
Recent developments saw a filing of an urgent motion in the High Court against the Minister of Transport and CBRTA for suspending the issuance of temporary permits even though the case was dismissed on 15 July 2015 on grounds of technicality.
As Dr Mofomme rounded off her brief, she highlighted that the challenges in the RSA and Lesotho borders had been ongoing for over 16 years and reiterated that various interventions had been made but the desired results had not been achieved. She then mentioned that a synergy between relevant stakeholders would be of great benefit.
Mr M Sibande (ANC) appreciated the current efforts being made by the CBRTA as the issue of border posts and engagements with SANTACO were long overdue. The starting point in solving the issues at hand was to identify the root causes of the problems. National and provincial departments were not in unison and this had created further problems.
Mr Sibande sought clarity on the responsible organ for the issuance of licenses, on the criterion used for the verification of the 26 vehicles that were given temporary permits, and on the taxis from Lesotho seen in South African taxi ranks during the oversight visit. He also inquired about allegations of taxi associations being escorted by the police when crossing to Lesotho via the Free State. He highlighted that taxi associations had squads that could not be separated from the respective associations.
Mr G Radebe (ANC) said that previous engagements with SANTACO revealed that the association was problematic. He inquired about the interventions that had been made to mitigate the issue with the association and about the relationship between the 26 verified vehicles and the 30 (minimum number of taxis in an association) as questioned by SANTACO members. He also sought clarity on allegations that some Committee Members in his constituency were harassed at border posts on their way to Swaziland. What investigations had been made into this matter and was the nature of the attack xenophobic? What were the expected legal costs of the battles between SANTACO and the Department?
Ms S Xego (ANC) was concerned about whether the interventions would yield positive results. What was the time frame set for the Ministerial task team to deliver their mandate?
She also inquired about the status of other border posts and added that the CBRTA should not wait for the Committee to conduct oversights on other borders before taking action. She was concerned about the case being dismissed on grounds of technicality adding that there was a possibility of the Department losing the case.
Mr T Mulaudi (EFF) mentioned that SANTACO did not currently honour committee meetings. Could arrangements be made to engage with their president?
The Chairperson said that a communication strategy should be developed and beefed up to enable an active involvement of relevant entities, adding that the issues raised were extremely critical. She expressed her agreement with the Minister’s insight on the systems dealing with challenges that were actually affecting people’s lives. Identified programs in the form of communications and engagements with operators and the Free State should be time bound. The standard operating procedures had been developed and stakeholders were beginning to see the importance of synergizing.
She asked about the progress made on the previous court judgment which requested the government to make certain implementations. Parastatals depended on the Department to speed up the process of amending acts. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and PRASA (Passenger Railway Association of South Africa) were both entities grossly affected by the legislations. She suggested time-framed amendments of acts devoid of procrastinations.
Mr C Hundsinger (DA) appreciated the efforts invested in mitigating problems at hand. He afterwards expressed his concerns about the sustenance of models after implementation.
Mr Chris Hlabisa, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Roads, DOT, said that there were reviews of founding legislations such as the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) Act and Road Transport Infringement Agency (RTIA) Act which revealed that legislations were conflicting in such a manner that it affected productivity. The issues had been prioritized and ironed out.
Mr John Motsatsing, Chief Director: Road Transport Regulation, DOT, stated that in terms of legal review, there were several conflicts between entity legislations. The Minister’s suggestion to conduct a review of pieces of entity legislations and streamline them was still unfolding. All entities that report to the Department had been engaged and requested to indicate legislations that were hampering the delivery of their mandates.
The Chairperson asked about the progress made to date in terms of legislations and the time frame for completion. She also inquired about the interventions that had been made as regards social issues affecting the Free State.
Mr Hlabisa said that the raised issues would be addressed in a written response in the form of a progress report, which would be provided to the Committee in 30days.
The Chairperson said that the CBRTA was doing a great job but the Committee was concerned about previous issues being repeated or escalation of issues to violence. SANTACO’s failure to recognise policies was a recipe for violence.
Ms Pam Pokane, Chairperson of the Board, CBRTA, said that there would be a legislative review process at the national level. As regards the court case, she confirmed that operators had found loopholes and were bombarding the Department with the different conflicting pieces of legislation.
Mr Hlabisa said that an attack was being launched on the Department by SANTACO and this was a strange approach.
Mr Posholi Posholi, Deputy Director: Public Transport, Free State, said that the taxi operators who took the Department to court were not aligned with SANTACO. There was a systems team verifying the 260 operators who took the Department to court.
Mr Motsatsing explained the criteria used to streamline vehicles to 26 in total. Operators needed to prove that they indeed conducted cross border operations, proof of ownership of the vehicles, proof of their involvement in in-land to in-land operations, and proof of involvement in cross border and intra-provincial operations (as both could not be done simultaneously). The current 260 operators would be verified in terms of the actual operations they are involved in (cross border operations or intra-provincial operations).
Mr Ronald Stuurman, Executive: Regulatory Services, CBRTA, added that vehicle papers and licenses were also reviewed to streamline the vehicles to 26.
Mr Sipho Khumalo, CEO, CBRTA, mentioned that regarding the issuance of licenses, the province was responsible for inter- and intra-provincial operations and the CBRTA dealt with cross-border and international operations. In terms of communication, there was a need to proactively engage Committee Members. Engagements were also in place to proactively affect a spillover of the situation in the Free State to other Provinces.
Mr Tumelo Phahlo, Chief Director: Free State, DoT, highlighted that the taxi industry in the country was under construction. The government was the primary custodian of peace and consequently, taxi operators could not be allowed to have private security operatives especially on routes controlled by the government and where permits were issued. Security companies would definitely defend the interests of their employers. Law enforcement and SAPS had been engaged on these routes and no private security operatives were allowed.
Mr Stuurman addressed Mr Radebe’s inquiry about conflicts between associations on the Swaziland route. Interventions by the CBRTA resolved the issues and the operations were back on the route.
Mr Hlabisa stated that the Executive Committee of the Free State would meet to discuss the reviewed plan only after the Minister had feedback and advised accordingly about the briefing with the Portfolio Committee.
Mr Khumalo said that negotiations and court cases could not run concurrently. In the meeting held on 26th June 2015, operators agreed to meet with SANTACO to take a collective decision in 21days (due on 21st July) but they took the Department to court before the due date.
Mr Sibande affirmed that certain vehicles were escorted by the police as an act of goodwill. It was impractical to overstretch resources and responsibilities by escorting over 7km from the border post. The escorts did not necessarily guarantee security and that a perfect solution for security issues was the synergy of entities.
Ms Pokane thanked all Members for assisting and supporting in the overall process. Mr Hlabisa would give a written response in 30 days. The concurrent negotiation and legal proceedings were a tactic used by operators purely out of frustration. Interventions were in the planning stages to resolve issues amicably.
Mr J Maswanganyi (ANC) sought clarity on the issue of low revenue versus high permits issued. He also inquired if the 2003 tariff structure was still in existence. As regards court cases and legal proceedings, he advised that state agencies should tighten legislation belts to avoid loopholes.
Mr Mlaudsi sought clarity on allegations about the ownership of taxis by government officials and the active involvement of civil servants in cross-border taxi associations.
Mr Sibande asked if the problem of conflicting legislations could ever be solved. In terms of issuance of permits, he said that there were allegations of involvement of municipalities in taxi ranks. Some taxi operators were requesting taxi ranks, and that there were taxis from Lesotho in South African taxi ranks.
Mr Hlabisa mentioned that the current task team was totally different from the previous in terms of ethical and productive working relationships even though there was still room for improvement. Issues were being dealt with head on.
Ms Mofomme stated that there was an 80:20 rule being demonstrated in terms of number of taxis as it related to low revenue versus the number permits issued.
Mr Khumalo explained that the 2011 regulations of the CBRTA act was successfully challenged in the constitutional court and the regulations had since been replaced by the 2014 regulations. CBRTA owed operators R318 million and there were indications that the Department might offer some sort of partial bailout in October. The issue was only contained because operators were claiming in “dribs and drabs”.
Revenue generated was directly proportional to the number of permits issued (the more the permits issued, the higher the revenue). The Auditor General’s report probably referred to the freight versus passenger revenue.
In response to issues surrounding court cases, the Department was not in principle opposed to entities taking the Department to court provided that the integrity of the process was held in high esteem. Using towns in the Free State as case studies, he said that legislation could not be blindly applied in terms of non-operation of taxi ranks within a 2km radius because it was extremely dependent on geographic locations.
As regards Lesotho taxis found in South African taxi ranks, this was initiated by an agreement between taxi operators in 2005. The model would be adopted and regulated by the government as it had proved its effectiveness over the years.
Mr Posholi said that the allegations of civil servants involvement in taxi associations were investigated and found to be fallacies. The problematic taxi association had since been deregistered.
Mr Phahlo described the international border between South Africa and Lesotho as an eyesore. He confirmed that a piece of land had been acquired by the government from Mr De Freitas in an attempt to decongest the border. The land was located in the Platenburg drift (subdivision 7) and had since been handed over to the Department of Public Works (DPW).
Mr Maswanganyi sought clarity regarding the deficit reflected in the Annual Report of the 2014 financial year.
Mr Khumalo said that financial targets were not met as a result of not being able to reach targets in the number of permits issued. When there was a declaratory order against 2011 regulations, the Department was forced to issue permits on the basis of 2003 tariffs for 6 months which resulted in a shortfall.
The Chairperson stated that issues had been sufficiently dealt with adding that the issues raised during the oversight should not be left unattended. Public transport was expected to be safe, reliable, and affordable for communities. Mr Hlabisa’s report should be ready in 30 days as promised.
The meeting was adjourned.
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