In a virtual meeting, the Department of Transport briefed the Committee on its 2021/22 fourth quarter performance. The Department had achieved 95% of its performance targets but admitted that this did not necessarily translate into tangible improvements in the lives of the people. The baseline freight migration plan will be revised in consultation with the Department of Public Enterprises and Transnet. A comprehensive programme to address the pothole crisis was being rolled out, led by the South African National Roads Agency Limited. It would look to take a more "interventionist” approach to ensure that Integrated Public Transport Network projects were implemented, particularly in Mangaung and Rustenburg. The Department gave a summary of its performance per programme, its finances per programme and per economic classification, spending on conditional grants, transfers to entities and virements.
Members of the Committee agreed that there was a gap between the Department’s high level of achievement on its performance indicators and actual service delivery. For example, the vast sums spent on Integrated Public Transport Network projects at Mangaung and Rustenburg were yet to yield any actual services. Members raised concern about under-spending on compensation and, in general, on potholes, provincial road maintenance grants, and vacancies.
The Committee had also planned to do clause-by-clause deliberations on the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill and to adopt its report on the Bill, but these items were postponed as the final proofs had not been printed in time.
The Committee discussed its programme for the third term.
Clause-by-clause deliberations on National Road Traffic Amendment (NRTA) Bill
Ms Phumelele Ngema, Parliamentary Legal Advisor, explained that there were still a few outstanding changes that had not been incorporated into the NRTA B-Bill. The final proofs had been sent to the legal advisors at only 08h00 that morning, and they had not had time to consider them. It would not be possible, therefore, to do clause-by-clause deliberations.
This item was postponed.
Consideration of Committee report on the NRTA Bill
This item depended on the clause-by-clause deliberations having been completed, and it was also postponed.
Remarks by Minister of Transport
Mr Fikile Mbalula, Minister of Transport, said that the fourth quarter report reflected progress made but critical gaps and misalignments in the Department’s planning that the Committee had also identified. These gaps and misalignments had been attended to in its 2022/23 planning. For example, deputy directors-general (DDGs) performance agreements had been tightened, as had shareholder compacts and performance agreements with departmental entities. A number of governance indicators have been identified which would strengthen internal controls, eliminate fruitless and wasteful expenditure, reduce irregular expenditure, and speed up the processing of invoices.
He noted that the Department had achieved 95% of its performance targets but admitted that this did not necessarily translate into tangible improvements in the lives of the people. The Department’s vacancy rate remained a problem, even though it had exceeded its target of filling 50 vacancies in 2021/22. The main reasons for the remaining vacancies were high staff turnover and lack of funding for some posts.
The migration of significant freight volumes from road to rail remained a medium-term priority. To this end, the baseline freight migration plan will be revised in consultation with the Department of Public Enterprises and Transnet. The Department was also hard at work addressing road infrastructure problems: a comprehensive programme to address the pothole crisis was being rolled out, led by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL). In the rail space, the National Rail Policy had been launched. It was expected to lead to increased investment and much-needed competition in the short to medium term. The policy also addressed the recovery of commuter rail corridors.
Subsidisation of the taxi industry was a key tenet of the Department’s public transport policy, which would soon be released for consultation. It would look to take a more “interventionist” approach to ensure that Integrated Public Transport Network (IPTN) projects were implemented, at Mangaung and Rustenburg in particular, and an integrated ticketing system for public transport would be piloted in cities with demonstrated capacity.
Department of Transport (DoT) presentation on its 2021/22 fourth quarter performance
Mr Ngwako Makaepea, Deputy Director-General: Rail Transport, DoT, said that the Department had achieved 53 out of 56 performance targets but agreed with the Minister that there was still a need to translate this into service delivery on the ground.
Mr Bosa Ramantsi, Chief Director: Strategic Planning, DoT, summarised the Department’s performance highlights in each of its seven programmes:
20 out 25 findings by the Auditor-General were resolved, and 24 out of 30 further findings by the internal audit office were resolved. Nine new cases of fruitless and wasteful expenditure amounting to R15 000 had been identified, and eight cases of possible irregular expenditure were under assessment.
2. Integrated Transport Planning
A draft freight migration plan had been developed, but the targeted development of draft regulations for autonomous vehicles had been missed due to prolonged stakeholder consultations.
3. Rail Transport
Socio-economic impact assessments and the Economic Sectors, Employment and Infrastructure Development (ESEID) cluster processing private sector participation and high-speed rail frameworks have been completed. The targeted approval by Parliament of the National Rail Bill had been missed because it depended on Cabinet approval of the White Paper on national rail policy.
4. Road Transport
The equivalent of 76 619 full-time jobs had been created through Provincial Road Maintenance Grants (PRMGs). The targeted submission to Cabinet of the national anti-fraud and corruption strategy for the road traffic environment had been missed.
5. Civil Aviation
Regulations relating to remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) operations were amended, while a decrease of deaths in aviation accidents from 23 to 17 was observed, alongside an increase in the total number of aviation accidents, from 97 to 161.
6. Maritime Transport
Socio-economic impact assessments and ESEID cluster processing of the Maritime Development Fund Bill and a draft status report on the corporatisation of the Transnet National Ports Authority have been completed. A draft business case for a national shipping company had been developed. The targeted approval by Parliament of the Merchant Shipping Bill had been missed due to prolonged engagements with the State Law Advisor.
7. Public Transport
689 old taxis had been scrapped in the quarter under review through the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme, and 2 717 bicycles were distributed through the Shova Kalula bicycle programme.
Consolidated indicators of the performance of various departmental entities and provincial transport departments, and responses to COVID-19, were also presented.
Mr Makoto Matlala, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DoT, summarised the Department’s spending per programme and per economic classification, indicating reasons for under-spending -- which added up to R530m of a total budget of R65bn -- and where it had occurred. He also summarised the spending of conditional grants -- the PRMG, the Public Transport Operations Grant (PTOG), the Public Transport Network Grant (PTNG) and the Rural Road Asset Management System (RRAMS) grant -- transfers to departmental entities and virements of R101.6m shifted from goods and services to other programmes, chiefly costs related to the refurbishment of Mthatha Airport.
Mr L McDonald (ANC) noted that there were still gaps between spending and service delivery but acknowledged that the Department was starting to move in the right direction. He remained concerned about the Integrated Public Transport Network (IPTN) transfers to Rustenburg and Mangaung. The total IPTN spending on these municipalities was approaching the billions. At some stage, this money needed to translate into services on the ground, and the Department needed to investigate whether this was happening. It was the poorest of the poor who were dependent on public transport.
He drew attention to recent fatal accidents involving children and unroadworthy vehicles and called for more oversight on scholar transport. He suggested that the rise in aviation accidents resulted from disrupted maintenance schedules caused by the lockdown and asked the Department to look into this. He called on the Department to increase the number of trucks that were weighed, as heavy trucks were destroying the roads.
Mr M Chabangu (EFF) described the under-spending on workers’ compensation as a malpractice and asked why it was consistently allowed to take place, leading workers to go on strike. He doubted any bus services would be rolled out in Mangaung in 2022/23, as construction had not yet begun and drivers had not been trained.
Mr K Sithole (IFP) was also concerned about under-spending in general and did not consider the given explanations adequate. He also doubted the validity of the Department’s reports on pothole repairs. He reported numerous potholes on the road between Newcastle and Frere, for example, and argued that the repairs that had been done were of poor quality. How was the Department helping the provinces to spend PRMG funds effectively?
Mr P Mey (FF+) suggested that PRMG funding was insufficient and should be increased.
The Chairperson questioned whether provinces should be given more money, given that they were not displaying the ability to spend the money they were being given. He said the Department should be commended for exceeding its target for filling vacancies, even though they had been quite low, and asked what its target was for the next year. When would a 10-15% vacancy rate be achieved? He also observed that the under-spending might have been comparatively low, but R500m was still a significant sum and there were still potholes throughout the country. What was the Department’s plan for potholes?
Mr Makaepea said that the Department’s approach to the challenges at Mangaung and Rustenburg would be to consider whether to put mechanisms in place to ensure recovery of the infrastructure that had already been constructed or to leave it as it was. The Department was meeting with the two cities consistently to ensure that there were consequences for contractors who had not delivered. Forensic investigations in both cities were being considered, and a service provider would be appointed this month to do an investigation in Mangaung.
He noted the comments made by Mr McDonald on the oversight of scholar transport, truck weighing and aviation accidents. He said the Department would work with the relevant entities to ensure that the issues were addressed. He shared the concerns about under-spending on compensation and said that the target for vacancies filled would be increased.
Through SANRAL, which would share skills and capacity, the Department would work with provinces and municipalities to address the pothole situation, and the Minister would make an announcement on this matter in the coming weeks. The Department’s roads branch would look into the question of the adequacy of PRMGs.
Mr Matlala said that the Department had prepared a procurement plan, with timelines, to address the under-spending on goods and services. It also advised entities not to advertise service and supply contracts in January and February, when they would not be counted for the year under review.
Mr Ramantsi said the Department’s medium-term vacancy rate target was 10%. He noted that staff turnover was the main reason for the current high vacancy rate, and the human resources department looked at a proactive plan to address this problem.
Ms Sindisiwe Chikunga, Deputy Minister of Transport, confirmed that the Department shared the concerns about the increase in aviation accidents but also noted that the number of fatalities had decreased. She assured the Committee that the Department shared its concerns about the vacancy rate. The public service regulations were clear that the vacancy rate should not be above 10%, and no post should be vacant for longer than a year.
Ms Valerie Carelse, Committee Secretary, said that the third term allowed for just six weeks of meetings. The Committee had planned to do oversight in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo and conduct a study tour this term. She also recalled that provincial hearings on the Railway Safety Bill had been discussed.
Mr McDonald suggested that the Committee prioritise the Eastern Cape for oversight, as there were several issues and the Committee had not yet visited that province. The study tour was also important.
The Chairperson said that the Committee might need to be realistic regarding provincial hearings on the Railway Safety Bill. It should also focus on the bills that it would be able to finish before the end of its term.
Ms M Ramadwa (ANC) maintained that the Committee needed to find a balance between processing legislation, oversight and public hearings. In the end, service delivery was the most important thing. Public hearings should also be in-person as far as possible to avoid disadvantaging those who do not have access to technology.
The meeting was adjourned.
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