In a virtual meeting, the Committee was briefed by the Department of Transport on progress toward clearing the driving licence backlog. The breakdown of the single machine producing driving licence cards had created a backlog of 639 000 cards by January 2022 when production resumed. addition there was also a renewal backlog of 1.472 million licences. It was expected that the renewal backlog would be cleared by September 2022.
The memorandum of understanding between the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) and the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) was to allow registered medical practitioners to record medical certificates and eye test results directly onto the National Traffic Information System (NaTIS). The MOU was currently with the HPCSA for internal approval.
Committee Members appreciated the lengths to which DoT was going to clear the backlog but called for the digitisation of the system to be accelerated and for steps to be taken to prevent a similar problem in the future. They asked for a clear roadmap for the digitisation process. Members drew attention to corruption, poor service and poor staff attitude at traffic centres and suggested ways in which officials could be held accountable and motivated to perform better. They also discussed the relationship with the South African Post Office for driving licence renewals.
The Committee received a legal opinion on the constitutionality of draft National Road Traffic Regulation 116A. This would restrict the validity of a professional driving permit issued in a foreign country to vehicles registered in that country. The opinion was that the draft Regulation contradicted section 32(3) of the National Road Traffic Act as well as international conventions to which South Africa was a signatory. It also confirmed that it was procedurally valid to present the draft regulations to only one House of Parliament if the Act stipulated that the Minister must refer the draft regulations to Parliament for comment
The Committee resolved that it would ask DoT to withdraw draft Regulation 116A until the Committee had completed its deliberations on the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill, which included amendments to section 32(3).
The Chairperson noted apologies from the Minister and Deputy Minister of Transport and invited Department of Transport (DoT) to deliver its presentation.
RTMC & HPCSA Memorandum of Understanding
Adv Johannes Makgatho, DoT Chief Director: Road Regulation, explained that the purpose of the MOU between the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) and the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) was to allow registered medical practitioners to record medical certificates and eye test results directly onto the National Traffic Information System (NaTIS). It was currently with the HPCSA for internal approval by the board of directors.
Driving licence backlog: DoT progress report
Mr Sandiso Thutshini, Driving Licence Card Account (DLCA) Acting Head, explained that the breakdown of the driving licence card production machine was the result of an electrical surge caused by flooding in a next door building. This had created a backlog of 639 000 cards by 20 January 2022 when production resumed. Of these, 112 000 outstanding cards would be produced by mid-April 2022. In addition to the production backlog there was also a renewal backlog of 1.472 million licences, many of which would probably be renewed at the last minute before the renewal grace period ended on 31 March 2022. DLCA would work overtime to ensure the expected increase in demand was met. It was expected that the renewal backlog would be cleared by September 2022.
Mr T Brauteseth (DA, Kwazulu-Natal) commended DoT for the efforts it had made to overcome the challenges. In particular, the MOU with the HPCSA showed that it was moving in the right direction with information technology. The reason for the licence card production crisis was that there was no backup machine. Why were there not two machines, so that if one was damaged the other could continue operating? Would budget be set aside to procure a second machine? Digitisation of driving licence cards was absolutely vital. DoT had in the past said that it was looking into a system where driving licences could be carried on the holder’s smartphone. This would be a very progressive system. DoT had been discussing this for three years. What steps had been taken to fast-track the digitisation of driving licences? There should be a push to use online systems wherever possible to reduce the hassle of licence renewal. He asked if a timeline had been set for HPCSA to approve the MOU.
Mr M Dangor (ANC, Gauteng) agreed with Mr Brauteseth on the need to accelerate the digitisation of driving licences. He asked why the presentation had been marked ‘secret.’ What was not supposed to be disseminated? The breakdown of the machine had severe consequences, particularly in Johannesburg, where people were now queuing for days at traffic centres. How was DoT planning to deal with this?
Ms S Boshoff (DA, Mpumalanga) asked how much DoT had spent on overtime wages in its attempt to clear the backlog. Was the building next door to DLCA owned by DoT and, if not, would it be possible to put in an insurance claim for the damage to the machine? She agreed that digitisation was an important goal because the staff attitude at driving licence centres was very worrisome. They treated people badly and sometimes closed the centre for no reason. This was a particular problem in rural areas where it was very expensive and time-consuming to travel to a centre.
Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) agreed that digitisation was an important goal. It would reduce the length of time spent queuing. The presentation accounted for the effect of the machine breakdown but ignored the fact that centres had been closed due to COVID-19 and there was also corruption among transport officials. These factors had also contributed to the backlog. Had there been consequence management for officials who had sold booking slots at traffic centres? What would DoT do to prevent accidental damage to the machine from occurring again?
Mr T Apleni (EFF, Eastern Cape) agreed that the long queues and the poor staff attitude at traffic centres were a real problem. He himself had been upset after seeing the attitude of staff during a recent visit to a traffic centre in King Williams Town. The centre would only take twenty applications in a day. The Department should take note of this.
Mr Brauteseth added that DoT should follow the example of the Department of Home Affairs by allowing people to make appointments online. This would eliminate the need for people to queue at the centre and enable staff to prepare for a certain number of appointments per day. Even though not every South African had easy access to the internet, this would still remove a lot of hassle for the majority of people. The poor attitude of staff was part of a vicious circle. It was to be expected that they would suffer from low morale and become disheartened when they did not have the resources and support they needed from the Department. Digitisation would also reduce the amount of pressure on these officials.
The Chairperson noted that the presentation on the MOU was very short. What measures did the MOU contain to mitigate the possibility of corruption? What controls would be in place to ensure that eye test results from third-party medical practitioners were genuine and that DoT did not lose control of the system? He asked about the status of DoT’s partnership with the Post Office for vehicle licence renewals. In Kuruman, for example, people queuing at the Post Office to renew a vehicle licence waited in the same queue as people queuing for the R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant. Had there been engagement with the Post Office to deal with this?
Mr Thutshini, DLCA, replied that the existing card production machine was obsolete and it was no longer practical to procure another one. When the new licence card was rolled out, DoT would consider having a backup machine at a separate site. The digital licence was linked to the new licence card project. Once the card design had been approved, DoT would begin the necessary software design. The cost of overtime from January to March 2022 totalled R365 000. DLCA currently occupied a building belonging to the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) but it was looking for its own premises. The flooding had damaged underground electrical cabling, and in response, DLCA had raised all of its cabling above ground. The damage would be covered by insurance.
Ms Liana Moolman, RTMC Chief Financial Officer, conceded that DoT was in a rut when it came to the current licence card system. The more services moved online, the fewer opportunities there would be for corruption but this also made it much harder to implement. For example, when DoT launched online NaTIS services in February 2022 there had been a massive backlash from driving schools who were accustomed to dealing with NaTIS on behalf of their students. RTMC was currently launching smart enrolment systems that would create a fingerprint cross-referencing interface with the Department of Home Affairs database, which would reduce the amount of time the public needed to spend at traffic centres. She expected that the MOU with the HPCSA would be concluded at its board meeting on 30 April 2022. The MOU would reduce opportunities for corruption by creating an environment in which the optometrists providing eye test results could be securely identified. Optometrists would not be able to gain unauthorised access to NaTIS.
The issues with the Post Office arose because the Post Office had agreements with provinces. Similarly, the attitude of staff was because these officials were executing a function on behalf of the province or municipality. She invited members to visit the centres at Eco Park and Midrand. Even Gareth Cliff, who was known for his critical stance toward government, had praised the experience at Eco Park. These centres were piloting an arrangement that RTMC wanted to roll out countrywide. The online booking system was now being used in Gauteng, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City, and it had been very well received in the last two locations.
Adv Makgatho, DoT, confirmed that, with regard to the bad service at centres, there was an agreement with the municipalities and provinces. The national Department did however have a service delivery working group where provinces and municipalities were represented and where incidents of bad service were flagged and looked into. DoT had presented its minimum service delivery standards to the Committee, which it would pilot at a few centres and then roll out across the country.
Mr Dangor suggested that the Batho Pele principles should be displayed on the wall behind officials at every centre, and feedback forms should be provided to citizens to enable them to report if they were or were not treated according to those principles.
Mr Rayi agreed that the public should be provided with forms to indicate their level of satisfaction with the services they received, and officials should also have to wear name tags so that they could be named if they treated the public poorly. He had first-hand experience of poor service at a centre in East London, where the officials had stopped accepting applications as early as 2:30pm. The attitude of officials doing motor vehicle licence renewals was even worse. It was as if the officials did ont even want the public to be there.
Adv Makgatho welcomed these suggestions and undertook to present them to the service delivery working group.
Mr Rayi repeated his question about consequence management for officials who had sold booking slots.
Adv Makgatho drew attention to media reports of the arrest of 15 people at the Harrismith and Bethlehem centre on fraud and corruption charges. He acknowledged that it might be a drop in the ocean but there were some successes to report.
Mr Dangor noted that there was corruption at some centres in Johannesburg related to bulk applications. Officials claimed that only bulk applications could be processed, while a person waited outside offering to process the application as part of a bulk application for a fee.
Mr Brauteseth asked for a time frame for the digital licence card. If DoT had not yet established a time frame then the Committee should ask it to commit to one.
Mr Thutshini replied that the digital licence was planned to be rolled out in 2024/25.
Mr Brauteseth remarked that this was a very long time to go and it contradicted DoT’s statements in the media and to the Committee. The matter was urgent. What were the milestones leading up to the roll-out? If Cabinet was currently considering it, why was it going to take three years? This was not acceptable.
Mr Prasanth Mohan, DoT Acting Deputy Director-General: Road Transport, noted this concern and undertook to share a detailed plan in writing within seven days.
The Chairperson asked if the grace period applied to both driving licence and vehicle licence renewals or only to the former.
Adv Makgatho replied that five or six Covid-19 directives had been issued, only one of which had concerned vehicle licence discs. The remainder dealt with driving licences, learner’s licences, professional driving permits (PrDPs) and so forth.
Legal opinion on draft National Road Traffic Regulation 116A
Ms Phumelele Ngema, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, stated that the legal advisors had been asked to look at two matters:
1. Constitutionality of draft Regulation 116A, which would restrict the validity of a PrDP issued in a foreign country to vehicles registered in that country;
2. If the presentation of the draft Regulation to the Select Committee alone, and not to the Portfolio Committee on Transport, was sufficient to fulfil the requirement of section 75(6) of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA), which stipulated that the Minister must refer draft regulations to Parliament for comment.
The legal opinion stated that:
1. Regulation 116A contradicted section 32(3) of the NRTA as well as international conventions to which South Africa was a signatory. However, an amendment to section 32(3) was presently being considered by the Portfolio Committee as part of the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill [B7-2020]. This amendment would enable the Minister to make regulations to ensure that foreign PrDPs aligned with South African law.
2. The presentation of the draft Regulations to the Select Committee did fulfil the requirement of section 75(6) on the grounds that Parliament was constituted by both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.
Mr Brauteseth said he understood that the draft Regulations needed to be submitted to both Houses. It was also clear that Regulation 116A would definitely be challenged in court if the Minister tried to pass it. He did not think anyone had a problem with foreign drivers being required to abide by South African regulations related to PrDPs. However, there were international treaties that recognised competent authorities in other countries. Things started to look xenophobic, and Parliament should not let its decision-making be swayed by the criminal actions of a mob that decided to burn trucks simply to get their way. It must follow the rule of law and the Constitution.
The Chairperson noted that the legal opinion had stated that there was no procedural problem with presenting the draft Regulations to the Select Committee alone.
Ms Ngema confirmed this.
Mr Rayi stated that the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, Economic Development, Small Business, Tourism, Employment and Labour had been briefed the day before by the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL) on the draft National Labour Migration Policy (NLMP) and its accompanying legislation, Employment Services Amendment Bill. At that briefing, the Deputy Director-General Sam Moratuba had been aware of draft Regulation 116A and had seen nothing wrong with it. Mr Moratuba had also confirmed that discussions were taking place with all relevant departments on foreign workers. He asked Ms Ngema if it would be possible for DoT to withdraw draft Regulation 116A and focus on achieving its objectives through the NLMP and it related legislation.
The Chairperson proposed on behalf of the Select Committee that DoT withdraw draft Regulation 116A until the Portfolio Committee had completed its deliberations on the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill.
Ms Ngema added that the Select Committee could either refer the Regulation back to DoT or ask it to withdraw it. It was also for the Committee to decide if it wanted to shift its focus to the NLMP and the Employment Services Amendment Bill.
Minutes of meetings on 8 December 2021, 23 February, 9 and 16 March 2022 were adopted.
Mr Rayi observed that the Department sometimes failed to supply information requested by the Committee during the meeting. The Chairperson should write to the Department to insist that they supply any information requested by the Committee within the requested timeframe.
Mr Brauteseth agreed, adding that the letter should be strongly worded.
The meeting was adjourned.
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