Radley Keys, MPP
DA KZN Spokesperson on Transport
The Department of Transport has been hailed since 1999 as one of the best managed and most efficiently run departments in the province. Many accolades have been heaped on the department from its early days.
Unfortunately the department has lost its rudder and is sliding into decline.
The core function of the department is to provide a safe and affordable transport infrastructure and systems for all the people of the province. Instead what we witness is an increase in sod turning and canvassing events for the ANC at the tax payers’ expense.
In these budget debates the challenge that faces us all, especially the MECs, is to deal with the issues raised rather than attacking the messenger when corruption and incompetence is exposed. It is a regular occurrence in this house to throw the race card when an MEC or a member on that side of the house is not able to deal with a serious issue we raise. We hope that they will refrain from this puerile response to matters of importance to the people of our province.
I will highlight three main areas under the department that impact negatively on the lives of our people:
1. Increased budget with a reduced level of service
Despite the increase in the budget over the MTEF period the levels of delivery either remain constant or are reduced over this period. The creeping increase in staff costs reduces the resources available to deliver services. This raises the question about a government intent on securing its support base by paying them for their loyalty instead of loyalty to the people and a serious commitment to deliver what is essential to build our economy. Government’s primary responsibility is to the people, not the enrichment of the few.
A matter of serious concern is the cost of road building in this province. There is no consistency when one sees one kilometre of road construction costing R20 million in the lower Sani Pass and down to approximately R4 million per kilometre on other road construction. This vast difference is not justified and smacks of incompetent administration and management of the projects where the perception of pockets being lined is unavoidable.
2. Non responsive government
Members are elected by the people of this province. Every member has the responsibility to be receptive to the people and take up matters citizens raise with them. I have taken up numerous matters with senior managers in the department. In one instance it took more than a year to get an acknowledgement of receipt of my letter after the intervention of the HOD and portfolio chairperson. To date no action has been taken on any of the issues raised – why am I surprised?
“Together we can do nothing” seems to be the motto of the department that was once the flagship of this province. Ignoring the demands and needs of the people of the province is a recipe for unrest and discontent to grow. Why are we surprised at the levels of unrest and protest?
I am expecting the MEC to attack me personally rather than deal with the growing incompetence in his own department. I challenge him to deal with the issues that have been and continue to be raised by the voters in this province.
3. Disdain for the lives of the people in out province
I come to the third of the critical issues facing the department – that of the recruitment fiasco for traffic inspectors.
Up to eleven people died as a direct result of the incompetent planning and management of the recruitment process.
There are 90 vacancies to be filled. Any sane person would create a shortlist of no more than three times the number of vacancies – in this case it would be 270 applicants put on the shortlist. But no, the department came up with a cock and bull shortlist of 35 000. On the 27 and 28 December 17 000 applicants were called to undergo a fitness test – a four km run in temperatures well above 30 degrees centigrade. There was absolute chaos on the day from chaotic parking, to Harry Gwala stadium being overwhelmed with more people than it is legally allowed to accommodate, and insufficient toilet facilities and no adequate provision of water – e.g. two taps in the gents toilet for more than 10 000 men – and no medical facilities until someone realised there was a crisis.
These arrangements guaranteed a threat to the lives of the applicants, and indeed eight young people died on the day and at least a further three in the weeks thereafter. Hundreds were hospitalised for dehydration, and hundreds of thousands of rands were wasted by applicants who had to travel from all quarters of the province to get to Pietermaritzburg and return again on the 30th for the aborted driver competence tests. The MEC, when he aborted the driver competence tests on the 30th responded to a question from applicants as to why so many were shortlisted said he wanted to give everyone a chance. In fact, what he achieved was to disappoint 35000 young people whose hopes were dashed and distressed the families of those who died.
To date no internal action has been taken by the department against officials who were responsible for this disaster. Indeed we have a commission of inquiry, but this does not absolve the department from proceeding with an internal investigation and action. The department has failed the people of this province horribly, and the MEC has defied this house by refusing to present its report to the transport portfolio committee which it claims has been presented to the Premier.
The DA repeats its call for the MEC as the responsible head to resign or be removed from office as would be done in any self respecting democracy. This would be to respect those that died at the hands of his department.
To end, the DA would dearly like to see this department turned around and reclaim its position as the flagship department of the province – one that focuses on excellence in delivery to the people and not to its cronies.