The Department of Transport briefed the Committee on the institutional changes recommended for the National Land Transport Bill [B51-2008], following discussions with the Department of Provincial and Local Government. Three new definitions were outlined, and a new clause 11, clearly specifying the responsibilities of each of the three spheres of government, as well as the assignments, was tabled. The changes were made to clarify and consolidate the proposed functions.
An interactive discussion session followed, in which there was emphasis on the delineation of the responsibilities between the spheres, and the need for cooperation between national and provincial functions, as set out in the Constitution. Members discussed the current system of bus subsidies, but felt that provinces should have a more significant role and that more subsidies needed to go to rural areas. There were concerns around the assignment provisions, which Members pointed out could be influenced by power play and personalities, but it was stressed that the route of assignment was the only route to follow, short of changing the Constitution. Members enquired about agencies and municipal entities, the merits of devolving, the need to plan routes, the need to have more clarity on the funding, the wide definition for special categories, whether scholar transport was included, and clarity on unfunded mandates, especially in metros, and the transport funds. However, they cautioned that the wording used should not transform this into a money bill. Members were asked to study the submission about inter-modal integration received by the Committee. A further meeting was scheduled for 18 August.
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson stated that the Department of Transport and the Portfolio Committee had agreed to focus on core issues, institutional arrangements and respective functions inherent or assigned to different spheres of government, as there had been some difficulties in describing where certain functions should be located.
He reminded Members that three of the Bills that the Committee had been considering had been finalised; the Legal Succession to the South African Transport Services Amendment Bill, the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill and the National Railway Safety Regulator Amendment Bill. There still remained a challenge with the National Land Transport Bill. The core issues were the powers and functions in regard to transport broadly, and public transport specifically, and the three related spheres. He noted that a document had been prepared by the drafters, which was tabled at the meeting.
Mr Jits Patel, Acting Chief Director: Department of Transport, tabled a document setting out institutional changes that were now proposed following his Department’s discussions with the Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG). The changes would illustrate the evolution that was envisaged, and consolidate the functions proposed. Each of the phrases “municipal public transport”, “public transport” in relation to the national sphere, and “public transport” in relation to provincial sphere” was explained, and a proposed clause 11 would set out in terms what were the responsibilities of each of three spheres of government. Provisions were also provided in respect of assignment of functions (see attached document for full wording)
The Chairperson noted that two separate definitions were provided for public transport, and he proposed that they be combined into one definition with two subsections
Mr Neville Dingle, Advisor to the Department of Transport, said that the Constitution specifically mentioned public transport and the competencies, and this was the reason for drawing up the two definitions.
The Chairperson, referring to the proposed clause 11(1)(a), dealing with the responsibilities of the national sphere, said that the critical points were in (viii) and (ix), because many provinces were likely to assume that these functions belonged to them.
Mr Dingle said that in the strategy document, the policy was stated that the operating licence function should go where it was already assigned, to ensure that it was pulled up to the national level. The subsidy function rested with the national department already.
Mr E Magubane (ANC) asked, in relation to 11(1)(a)(vi), what would provinces then do.
The Chairperson said that national transport had to look at both provinces and municipalities. National transport should work cooperatively with provinces, as it was stated in the Constitution.
Mr Dingle said that this matter was discussed in the DPLG, and there were circumstances where national transport could intervene, but essentially it was left to the provisions in the Constitution.
Mr Dingle added that under the current system, the money in respect of bus subsidies was included as part of the National department’s budget and paid to it. From there it was then distributed to provinces. Provision could be made for assignment.
The Chairperson clarified that it was a national function and was inherent. It could be assigned to provinces, but could also be assigned as a subsidy function to a metro. There was a need to avoid attempts to be undermined by a bus-subsidy approach. Provinces would have a significant role to play, and more subsidies needed to go to rural areas.
Dr M Sefularo (ANC) said that in his experience the assignment provision was subject to and open to power plays, and a more directive provision was preferred. He added that he was not in favour of the provision of assignment, as it put people at the mercy of power plays and personalities.
The Chairperson noted that the particular problem had been between Metros and some provinces, but not all the provinces. Most of the provinces were trying to solve the problem by making it clear that the assignment function of operating licences and subsidies rested with national sphere, and not with provinces. He noted that this might look like a better solution, but the danger did lie in the fact that at the end of day it could still be affected by personalities and turf battles.
The Chairperson said that the advice given the Members was that the assignment route was the only way to go, short of changing schedules in the Constitution. He felt that perhaps this Committee should make a written submission to the DPLG regarding the future of provinces, so that it would not forever depend on assignment. He felt that the best way would be to vest powers in the national sphere, and ensure that policy made it very clear that there was to be a combination approach, that should not simply disperse responsibilities, but where appropriate would devolve them. He suggested that there should be a reference to policy in the aims and objectives, and then that the assignment route be followed.
Mr Patel agreed and said that in relation to the subsidy clause 9, there were existing contracts that would be introduced in the integrated plans, which would state that it was an inherent municipal function.
Mr Patel added that the municipal functions read from the document in 11(b), were quite extensive and showed a shift towards global directions.
Dr Sefularo asked what was being said about agencies.
Mr Dingle responded that it was intended to include municipal entities. He suggested that the wording should include 'and strategy' for the sake of consistency in sections (a) and (b) of the document.
Mr Patel said that even the DPLG was saying that there was little effort to budget for operations and maintenance.
Mr Dingle said the viewpoint of the Department was that at the planning stages the planners needed to take account of where transport was moving, as the Act required certain routes for transport of dangerous goods. The intention was not to regulate freight transport. Transnet wanted the Department to exclude movement within ports.
The Chairperson stated that the Department of Transport was very weak with regard to information on what was available, and timing. It was hard to have participatory democracy at a national level, other than by receiving sectoral inputs. The great merit in devolving was that it then gave the opportunity for public participation.
The Chairperson asserted that all the core functions should have a participatory dimension. He added that the plan should be one driven by participation, as this was how the battle was going to be won. The critical reason for devolving was that it created the space for real involvement.
Ms B Thomson (ANC) referred back to 11(b)(viii), and said that it was important to work closely with Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to implement the legislation.
Mr Dingle noted, in respect of clause 11(b)(vi) that there was a need to incorporate Road Traffic Management.
Dr Sefularo noted that in clause 11(b) there was not enough clarity in respect of the funding. He wanted assurances that there were provisions regarding funding.
The Chairperson flagged this matter for later discussion.
Mr Dingle noted that there was a very wide definition for “special categories”, to include scholars with disabilities. It was not implied in other functions.
The Chairperson said that all learners should be included in the definition of concessionary fares. There was some debate whether scholar transport was an educational function or a transport function. The problem was that the people who were dealing with this did not understand transport. It was an inherent municipal function and, in his view, clearly a transport function. Learners were an issue in terms of the definitions. He said that Transport MECs should be clearly separated from Education MECs.
Mr Dingle said that certain procedures would have to be followed before assigning operating licences.
The Chairperson said that there needed to be an understanding of how 11(c)(iv) differed from 11(c)(iii). He clarified that Ministers and MECs may assign functions in terms of the Constitution, and that municipalities may make requests from the Minister or the MEC. All this had to take place within the framework of the Municipal Systems Act and the Constitution.
Dr Sefularo said that between 11(c)(ii) and (iii) there would be the opportunity to free up the local government sphere.
Dr Sefularo added that he was hoping for the opportunity to loosen up structures and take things straight to the municipality.
The Chairperson said that the National Regulator was in effect taking some current operating licence functions, and vesting them nationally.
The Chairperson said that 11(c)(vi) covered the case where there was a provincial matter but one or more of these functions were assigned to a municipality. This meant more than what was being said, because the licencing of public transport was a national function.
Mr Dingle suggested that ‘subject to this Act’ be added to the clause, to clarify matters.
Mr Dingle said, in relation to clause 11(c)(vii), that the wording referred to the intergovernmental framework of DPLG.
The Chairperson said that there were still certain considerations around roads. National Treasury had indicated it did not like the notion of a national, provincial and municipal transport fund. There was sceptism around the National Land Transport Act, especially with regard to metros. He asked for clarity regarding unfunded mandates, especially in metros.
Mr Patel said that on the issue of unfunded mandates the key pressure would be found around capacity and support. National Treasury had indicated to the Department that it would send documentation indicating a commitment to finance land transport in the future. The Department has not as yet received any documentation.
The Chairperson asked if the references to these three funds could be removed.
Mr Dingle said that according to the last meeting the municipal fund would be retained.
Dr Sefularo stated that a provision for funding should be made at the municipal level.
The Chairperson said that there was a need to make absolutely sure that this wording was not resulting in the creation of a money Bill, and that planning and the integration of spending were being considered.
The Chairperson referred to an individual submission received from a railway engineer, in which an interesting point was made regarding intra-modal integration, which had emphasised that more needed to be said about such integration. He asked that all Committee Members and the Department of Transport read this submission.
The Chairperson announced that the Committee would meet on 18 August to discuss the Bill and amendments further.
The meeting was adjourned.
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