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PUBLIC SERVICES SELECT COMMITTEE
11 February 2004
STATE OF ROAD INFRASTRUCTURE: BRIEFING
Documents handed out:
SA National Roads Agency Ltd submission (Awaited)
The Board Chairman, Mr Khehla Shubane, and the Chief Executive Officer of the SA National Roads Agency, Mr Nazir Alli, briefed the Committee on the state of SA road infrastructure. Members expressed concern about the perceived lack of focus on black empowerment and job creation, especially for disabled persons, women and local jobseekers on road works under SANRAL.
They pointed out that consultation and communication with the public about tolling matters was unsatisfactory and that toll fees were unconscienably high. SANRAL promised to improve their communication with Members and the public.
The Committee Secretary proposed, seeing that the Chairperson had not arrived in the two hours after the scheduled start time, that an Acting Chairperson be chosen. Mr V Windvoël was elected to act as Chairperson for the meeting. He expressed regret that documentation had not been made available to Members before the meeting.
The Board Chairman, Mr Khehla Shubane, and the Chief Executive Officer of the SA National Roads Agency, Mr Nazir Alli, addressed the Committee. Mr Shubane explained why literature and documentation were not circulated ahead of time, and proceeded to take the Members through the 43 slides (see attached). They detailed the progress on various projects and their Rand value; the value of training; and the rural areas identified for special attention. He stressed that the clearance of alien weeds elongated road life. This was the advantage gained through proper maintenance. Tolls on some roads on the national network could hold great benefits to the condition of the road network.
With reference to the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) process, he stressed that the independent environmental consultants vigorously maintained their professional independence. Public participation in the EIA process, as required by the Environmental Conservation Act, could not be avoided. In most cases, clear-cut concensus (although not 100%), was obtained. The Department of Environmental Affairs conducted the process. He explained that most of the elements of public participation in the tolling process were not conducted by the National Roads Authority, but by other government departments.
Mr M Sulliman (ANC) was disappointed with the small amount (R 400 000) projected expenditure allocated to the Northern Cape that comprised 30% of the area of South Africa. He was unsure of where the responsibilities of the NRA lay, seeing that road matters were the domain of municipal, provincial and national governments. He advocated that the NRA started playing a more active role because roads and bridges were not up to acceptable standards.
Rev M Chabaku (ANC) asked how capacity building was effected, and maintained that training was vital. She asked that the categorisation of men, women, youth and disabled be extended to provide statistics on age groups, HIV/AIDS sufferers, and that, in lieu of person-hours, actual numbers involved in work be given.
She had grave concerns that people were not consulted about the placing of toll roads. Toll road charges were exorbitant. For example the total of toll charges for travelling from Pietersburg through six toll gates to Pretoria was rumoured to cost R 400, which many people and taxi's could not afford. Roads in the Free State had to carry heavy through traffic between surrounding provinces and Lesotho. Nevertheless, she appreciated what the NRA had done.
Ms B Dlulani (ANC) asked that information regarding the Record of Decision be given to members. She cited a personal incident on a road under construction where she was stranded with the tyres of her car caked with tar. She asked who one was supposed to report to, and who would pay for the damages.
Ms B Thompson (ANC) stated that the meeting was called due to great dissatisfaction with a previous meeting with SANRAL. She was concerned that information on job creation was not given clearly, and asked at which nodes were the NRA actually working. She expressed concern that, whereas SANRAL was supposed to deal with poverty alleviation, the toll roads were actually benefitting the well-to-do. She objected to work like weed eradication in Natal (at Cato Ridge) being awarded to workmen from the Free State.
Mr Shubane explained that no attempt was made to distribute expenditure uniformly over the whole country. Expenditure was allocated following a complex process involving many criteria. Only the national roads concerned the NRA. They were quite prepared to give the number of people employed in road works. It was impossible to touch base with everybody concerned about the toll roads. They depended on independent professional people. There had been instances where the location of toll roads had been changed.
The Chair enquired about the legal requirement of an alternative untolled route to a proposed toll road, and expressed his concern that toll rates, although initially quite low, had escalated markedly.
Mr Nazir Alli (Chief Executive Officer of the South African Roads Agency Ltd) replied that at the time, there was no requirement in law for an alternative route to a toll road. An alternative route more than 20 km longer was considered a bad alternative. Increases in toll rates were increased in March every year directly according to the CPI (Consumer Price Index), not the CPIX. The total of toll fees on the route from Pietersburg to Pretoria was actually R107, not R400.
The Chair objected to the fact that no advance information of increased tariffs was given.
Mr Shubane replied that tariffs were contractually determined, gazetted and the Minister had the final say.
The Chair cited the situation on the Johannesburg-Komatipoort route. There were no discounts for taxi's that then utilised side roads which resulted in many accidents. He asked SANRAL to be more pro-active in its communication.
Rev P Moatshe (ANC) enquired how information about the discounts was transmitted to interested people.
Mr Shubane replied that initially processes were organised to ensure that communities were reached, but that it was often impossible to inform people.
The Chair offered the use of the offices of Members for this purpose.
Ms Dlulane suggested that the NRA convene meetings with poor people and offered to assist.
Mr Shubane pointed out that a Record of Decision was a public document, but also promised that the information will be sent to members. He admitted that there was room for improvement in their communication with Members and stated that they were ready to attend and talk to meetings.
Mr Alli explained that there was a list of acceptable contractors and that they could not restrict them, but it was a fact that 95% of small contractors operated only locally.
The Chair warned that people were making enquiries about empowering the previously disadvantaged.
Mr Shubane again pledged his commitment to help the poor and to improve company communication.
The Chair asked why there was nothing on Mpumalanga, and criticised the listing of only nine hours given for the disabled in Limpopo. The importance of hiring disabled people should be impressed on contractors. The glaring disparity between the person-hours of men and women respectively should be decreased. Joint meetings with other standing committees could be arranged.
Ms Thompson was tired of buying road building materials from white-owned big businesses and asked why her "own people" could not be trained by SANRA. She cited the case of Pietermaritzburg, where the supply of bitumen was in the hands of one firm.
Mr Alli invited Members to go to construction sites to reassure themselves about black participation. It was true that large oil companies controlled the provision of bitumen. Over the last three years, an initiative of NRA resulted in the establishment of a black-owned bitumen company active along the Maputo Corridor.
The Chair concluded the meeting by stressing that their Committee had to oversee Public Works, Transport and Housing but, even so, was prepared to attend meetings on site.
The meeting was adjourned.
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