AARTO Amendment Bill: Santaco submission; Departmental briefing on Tasima status

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30 March 2017
Chairperson: Ms D Magadzi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

SA National Taxi Council (SANTACO) commented on the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Amendment Bill. In general, SANTACO supported the Bill, and particularly remained resolutely committed to initiatives that would promote and strengthen road safety objectives. It did have concerns around how the legislation dealt with taxi operations, the demerit system and e-tolls. However, as commented on by the Members, it had no specific comments to make on specific clauses of the Bill, and the Committee later asked that it should raise any specific concerns in a later submission. SANTACO noted that the taxi industry had a turnover of R35 billion annually, and was a major player in achieving the 3.4% towards GDP, and was also the only transport sector employing around 600 000 people in the mainly lower and semi-skilled sector, thus contributing hugely to government’s poverty alleviation programme. Taxi environments also served as profitable locations for hawkers and other informal retail businesses. 

SANTACO expressed concern over the removal of certain licences and expressed concern about positions of conflict; it had requested the Police Commissioner for a meeting but had not heard back on a date. There were concerns about how infringements would be communicated, and how the implementation of the legislation would interrupt normal taxi business. It was well aware of the high non-compliance rate in the industry but pointed out also that lack of good road planning, such as providing stopping zones, meant that drivers were placed in a very difficult position. A campaign had been launched aimed at road safety rules awareness, in support of government programmes and objectives, and to ensure the responsibility of the industry, and was in support of meaningful sanctions for those who did not comply. Lack of synergy between permits and operating licence related problems across various departments of transport and law enforcement agencies victimised operators who had applied yet still awaited necessary documents. The lack of communication resulted in flouting of laws, and made parties susceptible to bribery.

Members asked what would change the behaviour of taxi drivers and owners, whether designation or appointment of officials might resolve problems around conflicting positions, sought clarity on definitions and working hours and whether there were industry standards controlling hours of work. They asked what SANTACO was suggesting exactly by way of change and when the exemption from e-tolls came into operation. They asked for more comment on the e-toll.

The Department appreciated the support from SANTACO and said the issues raised would be conveyed to the drafters. With support of SANTACO, it hoped to be in a better position to deal with unroadworthy vehicles and non-compliance with the law, and it asked that any concerns about officials should be sent through to the MECs, to help resolve problems and clean up the industry.

The Department then gave the Committee an update on the long-standing challenges between the Department and TASIMA. The Constitutional Court had finally ruled in favour of the Department, but TASIMA had not left the premises and therefore the Department had approached the High Court for an order compelling it to do so. It assured the Committee that the system was up and running, contrary to the media reports, and that the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) was a legitimate entity to provide services. Members asked the Department to communicate with the security cluster, who was more knowledgeable about the use of advanced technology, that a contingency plan should be made, and commented upon the effect that these proceedings had on the budget of the Department. They also asked about the hand-over of skills.

The Committee also received a short briefing on the new reporting template for entities.

Meeting report

Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Act (AARTO) Amendment Bill: SA National Taxi Council (SANTACO) submission
Mr Vernon Billet, Secretary General, SANTACO, presented the submission. By way of introduction he noted that the taxi industry has a turnover of R35 billion annually. The Department of Transport (DOT or the Department) survey reported that the road sector contributes 3.4% towards the GDP. The taxi industry was a major contributor and was the only transport business that employed an estimated 600 000 employees who were mainly lower and semi-skilled workers, thus contributing hugely to government’s poverty alleviation programme. Taxi environments served as profitable locations for hawkers and other informal retail businesses who all depended on taxi customers for their livelihood.

Mr Billet noted that the main purpose of this submission was to raise SANTACO's grievances in relation to development in transport legislation that had an impact on taxi industry. Certain licences that allowed taxis to operate were removed. He raised concerns about positions which were a source of conflict in the taxi industry. SANTACO had sent a letter was sent to the Commissioner of Police as an attempt to facilitate a meeting in which differences could be resolved. SANTACO was still waiting for a response. There were also concerns about how infringements would be communicated, and how delivery in terms of the legislation would interrupt the normal taxi business.

He asserted that the taxi industry was affected by non-compliance with road safety rules. A campaign had been launched, aimed at road safety rules awareness, in support of the government efforts and to ensure greater responsibility by the taxi industry. In December, the President of SANTACO made a pronouncement that those drivers who were recklessly contributing to the loss of lives would be given harsh punishment. SANTACO believed that road safety could be ensured through cooperation with the Department as well as the other relevant stakeholders. SANTACO was part of various campaigns and was advocating for tough sanctions that would bring transformation to the taxi industry.

Within this context SANTACO supported the objectives of the AARTO Amendment Bill (the Bill), but had some reservations around provisions dealing with taxi operations, the demerit system and e-tolls. It remained resolutely committed to initiatives that would promote and strengthen road safety objectives, and therefore was looking forward to better communications.

He noted that taxi operators/drivers spent, at least, 6.33 hours per day on the road so it could be expected that fatigue might be a contributory factor in contraventions. However, there were certain rules that did not assist; for instance, many roads did not have drop-off facilities and taxis stopping in the middle of the street could contribute to accidents during heavy traffic, which in turn could lead to drivers losing their licences. In addition, the lack of synergy between permits and operating licence related problems across various departments of transport and law enforcement agencies victimised operators who had applied yet still awaited necessary documents. The lack of communication between various spheres of government as to decisions taken had caused flouting of laws, and making parties susceptible to bribery.

He reiterated that because the Amendment Bill was aimed at promoting road safety and change in behaviour of road users, it was supported by SANTACO. However SANTACO wanted to stress the need to create good feedback systems for drivers and operators so that good behaviour could be rewarded bad behaviour discouraged, through naming and shaming and other punitive measures.

Mr C Hunsinger (DA) remarked that he was very keen to hear what in the Bill, SANTACO agreed with, and if there were aspects where it was not happy. He sought clarity on elements that would change the behaviour of taxi-drivers and owners, and on whether designation and appointment of officials could resolve the problem of conflicting positions.

Mr M de Freitas (DA) pointed out that the taxi industry was mostly a black owned industry and this could define the character and behaviour of taxi operators or drivers in the road, but that their behaviour was also affected by the lack of facilities such as drop-off/and pick-up zones. He sought clarity on the definitions in the Bill, and on the total hours that a driver could work in one day, and whether there were standards in the industry on hours of work.

Ms S Xego (ANC) appreciated the fact that SANTACO responded to the Committee’s concerns. This submission provided an insight on what was going on in the taxi industry. She also appreciated SANTACO's statement that it supported the Bill, which was appreciated. However, she asked that it should assist the Committee to unpack three areas of concern. She sought clarity on what SANTACO suggested that the Committee should consider, and on whether the exemption from e-toll was taking place in December only.

Mr S Maswanganyi (ANC) sought clarity on the last sentence of the presentation and remarked that this confusion might give rise to other concerns. He admitted that the issue of road infrastructure was a problem because taxis tended to stop anywhere and at any time. The absence of drop-off facilities would pose traffic problems in narrow roads.

Mr M Sibande (ANC) agreed with colleagues that this was a useful presentation, and he was pleased to say that SANTACO was contributing enormously to the transformation of the economy. He noted that even though concerns were raised, the Committee would prefer these concerns to be quite specific, and direct the Committee to particular points in order that it could debate them and try to deal with these concerns, so it would be useful for SANTACO to provide more information.

Mr L Ramatlakane (ANC) noted that SANTACO was a key stakeholder in the transportation industry and thus should feel free to raise concerns on everything that took place on the road. It was in a good position to know all challenges faced by road users. Referring to slide 12, he sought clarity on the use of technological systems which he thought was an excellent idea. He asked for more clarity on the considerations of rehabilitation of habitual offenders.

The Chairperson sought clarity on SANTACO's experience on prior engagement with the Committee and asked what specifically it believed could be done to improve safety on the road.

Mr Billet responded that the SANTACO was ready to work hand in hand with the Department. Referring to the feedback received from the Committee, he responded that SANTACO had responded to concerns of the Committee. In regard to road safety, it said it was unfortunate that when planners were planning the road infrastructure, they did not include spots for off-loading of passengers. The general road challenges made the taxi industry and its business unique, and its particular context had to be understood, particularly what the taxi industry was and how it operated. He was of the view that the taxi industry should be subsided so that all owners and operators could comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, so that  taxi drivers/operators could be paid for working for a reasonable number of hours.

He noted that the e-toll rate was not levelled. This was reflected in the report commissioned by the MEC for Transport. The Department was not unable to provide an operating licence, and this could be possible if taxi industry was exempted. The taxi industry was mainly supporting black people – who were dependent on it as they did not have other business. Many people were depending on this business, but the state had introduced measures that placed uncertainties and difficulties on the whole industry.

Mr Sello Mokubyane, Deputy Director: Legislation, Department of Transport was pleased to hear that SANTACO supported the Bill. The issue raised by SANTACO had been noted and would be addressed in the Bill. If the taxi industry came on board, the Department would be able to address many fatalities that were currently happening on the road. All the problems about unroadworthy vehicles and non-compliance with the law would be able to be addressed. The issue of conflicted officials was a serious problem. This could be resolved by sending the names of officials who were suspected of nefarious dealings to the MECs. They would help to engage the industry and would clean up the industry, which should be seen as a priority.

TASIMA / Department of Transport: Current status: Department of Transport briefing  ruling
Mr Mokubyane briefed the Committee on the progress of implementation of the TASIMA ruling, although he did indicate that he could not go into specifics given the sensitive nature and status of the situation. The long-ongoing issue between TASIMA and the Department of Transport was once more before the High Court. There had been a judgment of the Constitutional Court (CC) that the TASIMA should hand over the premises within 30 days. The Department went to CC to clarify certain matters and, as a result, TASIMA was given more time to address all those issues. However, when it still refused to leave the premises the Department approached the High Court for an order compelling it to do so. Despite these challenges the system was up and running and was not in a state of collapse, as the media had portrayed. The Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) was a legitimate entity to provide services.

Mr Hunsinger remarked that the CC ruling was clear and he could not understand why TASIMA was not complying with the order. He sought clarity on what would be the alternative if things did not work according to plan.

Mr de Freitas sought clarity why TASIMA would not vacate the premises, and on whether those arguments were logical.

Mr Maswanganyi said that this issue could have been worse if there was no intervention by the court. TASIMA had the ID numbers of everyone, including the President, and his main concern was that having the details on every citizen could have impact on the national security. That is why once the CC had ruled on the matter, the security cluster should have taken over. He stressed that the main prerequisite was now that the Department should be working very closely with the security cluster because they were more knowledgeable about the use of advanced technology. They should, working together, make a contingency plan. He noted that the first thing that should have been done was to evict TASIMA, whether this was done by agreement or forcefully. The Department now ought to do everything in its power to take over.

Mr Sibande said that the reality was that the matter was still sub judice. It was therefore difficult to ask the Department to answer certain questions. He fully agreed that on this matter, the security cluster and other relevant departments had to work together. The TASIMA problem had affected the operational budget, because the various court applications required money that had not been budgeted for this. He asked for a date by which this matter would be finalised. He said that, now that the CC had ruled on the matter, he did not see where exactly the problem lay.

Mr Ramatlakane sought clarity on whether the Department was dealing with professionals or whether it was dealing with the people who were intent on staging sabotage in the country. He asked how TASIMA could refuse to hand over the keys of the building and simply vacate it? It was clear that they did not want to leave the building and were fighting to the bitter end, and he asked why, in those circumstances, the Department was even considering any leniency. He asked why TASIMA was not simply applying a court order to leave the building.

Mr G Radebe (ANC) said that he was not encouraged by this issue. He sought clarity on whether skills were transferred to the Department or whether TASIMA was still functional; if the latter, then he asked who would be paying it after they had disregarded the decision of the CC. He remarked that a political party not wanting to leave the House was removed by the relevant enforcers and asked why a similar approach could not be used to force TASIMA to vacate?

Mr Mokubyane appreciated that Members recognised that the matter was sub judice. The Department would be engaging with the security cluster, further given that the cluster was kept in the loop on the development of the matter. The Department went to the High Court to ask for an order that would enforce the decision of the CC. The suggestion of using the correct enforcement mechanisms would be communicated to the Minister. However, the Department was inclined to use legal mechanisms to ensure that the matter was resolved in a proper manner. He noted that if TASIMA’s duties were to be transferred to the Department, there was human capacity to fill any gaps. The way forward was to evict these people in terms of the court order and then to come back to the Committee to brief it on the direction that would be taken. The alternative plan was to ensure that the premises were taken back at any cost.

Mr Hunsinger sought clarity on whether the CC decision had included a request for an eviction order.

Mr Mokubyane said that he could not discuss the papers submitted to the High Court, but asked the Committee to wait for the Department to address the Committee again on its readiness to take over. He noted that the judgement was on the  website of the CC and fully accessible to those who wished to read it.

Reporting Templates: Committee Content Advisor briefing
Adv A Nel, Committee Content Advisor, took the Committee through the presentation. She noted that the template was developed for the purpose of guiding entities when drafting their reports, to ensure consistency and uniformity in reporting.

Mr Hunsinger welcomed the template. He suggested that a column should be included so that any reasons for a failure to implement certain programmes or policies could be elaborated on. He also noted that, due to budget constraints, financial challenges should be specifically reported on.

Mr Maswanganyi welcomed the template and remarked that it should have a section where a summary of the report or meeting objective could be inserted.

The Chairperson thought that this issue was already covered in another section of the template.

Mr Ramatlakane asked for and received clarity on the wording around the Director-General.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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