Budget Vote Debate: Poor state of FS roads contributing to economic decline and unemployment

Leona Kleynhans MPL

Free State Provincial Legislature

Note: This is an extract of a speech delivered by Leona Kleynhans during the Budget Votes debate in the Free State Provincial Legislature yesterday evening.

In the 2012/13 Annual Report of this department we read that 70% of the roads network in the Free State is in a poor or very poor condition. That means that 4 400km of roads in the province are not trafficable. Only 1900km of the roads are in a fair to good condition.

Madam Speaker,

This begs the question, why is this so?

Firstly, there is a 77% vacancy rate for engineers and other professionals in the department. Meaning that we only have less than a quarter of the engineers we need. Roads are an engineering field of expertise. We cannot be good in an engineering field without engineers; it is like a hospital without doctors.

Secondly, we have a critical shortage of personnel in the fields of human resource management, traffic management and roads.

And thirdly, 46% of the senior staff, presumably those with some experience and expertise, is over 50 years of age, which means they will go on retirement soon.

This means that despite our critical shortages of personnel and engineers, this shortage will soon get a lot worse.

Dit is nou soos hulle in Afrikaans sê – ons boer agteruit.

Madam Speaker,

In fact, the MEC in his foreword to the Annual Report admits that the 5 year Strategic Plan begun in 2009 has been a failure. The state of our roads has got a lot worse since then.

Let us consider the impact of this state of affairs on our province, and to do that, let us use the R74 Oliviershoek Road as an example.

This road, which is the official alternate route to the N3/van Reenens Pass, was part of the 23 Roads Project fiasco.

Initially 5km of the road was dug up and then abandoned. Since then the road has been unusable, leading to the closure of many tourist destinations and hotels along the extremely popular route from Gauteng to the Drakensberg World Heritage Site.

All of these tourist destinations were built by investors, who, when they closed their operations, had to retrench hundreds of workers. This is how a 5km stretch of bad road can impact on investment, the economy, employment, and tourism.

Imagine how 4 400km of bad road negatively impacts on the economy of our province as a whole.

Madam Speaker,

Many lives are being affected by the current situation of the roads. Mobile clinics cannot get to the communities they must serve.

Our rural people cannot get to doctors, banks, schools.

Our farmers are struggling to get their products to markets.

People are not investing in businesses thus having a negative impact on jobs.

The Honourable Premier in his State of the Province Address made many promises that would see economic growth, improved social developments and job creation projects, but without a good roads network, all these promises will be just pie in the sky.

Madam Speaker,

What we require in this department is:

  • Decisive political leadership with the purpose of ensuring that we build the foundation for economic growth and job creation;
  • Visionary leadership within the administration, intent on building an organisation with the professional and financial expertise and ethics to deliver on its mandate;
  • Personnel with the knowledge and experience to do the required strategic planning to save what is left of our roads network;
  • Financial management with the purpose of ensuring compliance with all regulations while using the available funds in a sustainable and efficient manner;
  • And lastly, that we as the Legislature conduct effective oversight and hold the department to account.