KZN Transport central to implementation of Provincial Growth Plan

Rafeek Shah, MPL

DA KZN Spokesperson on Transport

The KwaZulu-Natal Transport Department is central to the implementation of the Provincial Growth Development Plan (PGDP) given its responsibility for providing and maintaining the necessary infrastructure and systems for the safe and efficient transportation of goods and people in KZN.

There are many plans afoot within the province, all of which, respectively upon completion, have certain implications for the Transport department and which are bound to present serious challenges far greater than they are currently experiencing.  These plans include;

–          Declaring both the Dube Trade Port and Richards Bay IDZ as Special Economic Zones

–          Plans for the development of a Aerotropolis anchored around King Shaka International Airport and the Dube Trade Port

–          the expected increase in the volume of passengers passing through KZN’s Airports, from the current estimate of 5.2 million to 8 million passengers by 2020

–          the envisaged increase in international tonnage from the Trade Port cargo terminal

–          the future establishment of the Dig Out Port.

The question is whether the Department has a true appreciation of the task ahead? Are they building capacity and making the necessary plans to meet those challenges as and when they present?

One of these initiatives, the Dig Out port has major implications for Bulk Transport. Allow me to highlight some of these;

Rail Freight;

The Dig Out Port will lead to increased pressure on the rail freight system. If the current dismal performance of Transnet, in terms of management and capacity, is anything to go by service levels will obviously decrease. Currently, Transnet has out-priced itself in comparison to road freight. The planned injection and increase of capital investment in the general freight business along with the purchase of more wagons will also have an effect on its pricing due to servicing the debt acquired for capital projects. This will be further compounded by the shortage of electricity due to increased demand as well as the rise in the price of electricity. We will see this trend continue unless Transnet succeeds in turning things around by becoming more cost – effective and competitive.

Road Freight;

We can expect to see a substantial increase in heavy road traffic within the Ethekwini Metro area which will  present challenges way beyond the capacity of the Municipality to handle unless it builds necessary capacity from now .For one thing the road infrastructure will definetely take a severe beating.

The DA proposes the following in response to this specific challenge;

–          careful planning and management systems

–          checks on the corresponding necessary infrastructure with the completion of each phase of the project

–          Ensure that every risk associated with the project be identified and mitigation plans put in place.

–          Take care of issues around logistics and access; rail stacking in the Port; ware- housing facilities; acquisition of land for rail and road access, as well as truck staging areas closest to the Port

–          Ensure that the Department progressively increases its internal capacity to meet the various challenges that may arise during the development and on completion of some of these projects

The success of the Gateway Vision also depends on the cooperation of all relevant sister Departments and requires the establishment of a sense of synergy between Provinces in terms of matters relating to Transport Systems and Transport Regulations which is currently lacking.  At present there exists a lack of operator record dealing with violations, fines and accidents. We actually don’t even know how many vehicle types there are in SA and by extension the Province. We don’t even know how many registered freight companies are in operation

The DA recommends that an urgent forensic audit be undertaken in order to establish a comprehensive Data bank that could even be shared with other Provinces. We call on the MEC to communicate with his counterparts in the other Provinces asking them to do the same.

Critical to the success of the department is the serious examination of whether the past and current budget allocation trends of the Department capacitates it to meet the ongoing but more importantly the future challenges likely to present by these yet to be completed ambitious projects.

We must also consider whether the budget allocation for the Department empowers it in fulfilling its key role in supporting the Vision enshrined in the PGDS and by extension the PGDP which is aligned to the NDP. We need not go far to find answers to these questions.

Road Maintenance and Upgrade

More than 75% of South Africa’s import and export goods pass through KZN’s Durban and Richards Bay Ports. This has seen a dramatic increase in heavily loaded trucks diverting from the N2 and N3 Routes onto alternate routes, placing enormous pressure on the Provincial road network. This necessitates more funding for the rehabilitation and maintenance of these roads. Currently the Department only receives 40% of the funding required to maintain an equitable road network, resulting in an ever increasing road maintenance backlog.

The demand for road access, construction of new roads, improved road infrastructure and the need for regular maintenance of existing roads far exceed the Departments Budgetary Allocation. The situation is bound to get worse given the budget cuts the Province will experience over the MTEF period.

These financial constraints have led to over as well as under-expenditure in some of the Budget Programmes and sub-programmes such as the R9.10 million over-expenditure due to escalating costs of certain construction materials needed for the completion of some sections of various projects, Learner Transport Services and increases in fuel prices against the Public Transport Operations Grant (PTOG); as well as unauthorised expenditure amounting to R12,813 000, the result of project implementation which had to be accelerated due to public demand for critical road infrastructure and access.

Road Safety;

The carnage on our roads continues unabated. The Department needs to increase its efforts in improving and promoting road safety especially in the road transport industry.  Heavy vehicle overloading and a general culture of non-compliance with road safety protocols seem to be the order of the day. It is estimated that some 36 000 trucks enter Durban/ eThekwini daily. Alarmingly, a recent study found almost 50% of the trucks on our roads non-compliant. Overloading causes premature road deterioration.  Other factors such as inadequate vehicle maintenance, driver fatigue and insufficient compliance systems are a significant contribution to our poor road safety records.

Last year saw the consequences of non-compliance resulting in the Fields Hill accident in which 23 lives were tragically lost.  At the time the DA demanded a ban on heavy vehicles travelling on Fields Hill – this to the disdain and scorn of the MEC and some of his colleagues.

We now welcome the recent ban on extra-heavy and heavy vehicles of certain prescribed tonnage from using Fields Hill. However, we remain concerned as to the implementation and enforcement of the ban. Have there been any recent prosecutions against those in contravention of the ban?

RTI Strike:

The recent strike by RTI members is of great concern to the DA. It compromises road safety. Some of their demands include better working conditions, health and personal security. What has the MEC done about this matter?

PRASSA: Metro Rail

More than 2 years ago former Premier announced amidst great fanfare that the Metro Rail business train will be extended from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.  Millions were spent on feasibility studies for this PRASSA project. Will the MEC kindly inform the House on the current status of the project?

RTI Commission of Inquiry:

On 27 December 2012 eleven prospective candidates participating in a fitness test, as part of the recruitment process for Traffic Inspectors tragically lost their lives. A Commission of Inquiry under the KZN RTI was instituted. A November 2013 response to a DA Parliamentary Question put to the Premier revealed that the Inquiry was expected to cost taxpayers R4 million more than initially budgeted for. The initial funding provided by the Treasury for the purpose was R5.510 million. By June the cost escalated to R7.603 million. Then by end of September the same year the costs further surged to R8.522 million. The final cost by the end of 2013 was expected to be in the region of R14.234 million.

After a whole 16 months the Premier announced in his SOPA address of 26th June, that the report of the Commission was complete and would be handed to his office in a day or two.

A full month and a half had elapsed since this announcement and this Legislature has not yet had sight of the full Report. What were the reasons for this one and a half month delay?

It was only yesterday that the Premier made a statement on the matter to the House in what is best described as a vague summary of what is otherwise a lengthy and detailed report which makes some very damning findings and specific recommendations. He did not even spare us the courtesy of sharing a hard copy of the summary. He also said that he was not in a position to release the full report. May we ask, what are the reasons behind this?

In terms of the KZN Commissions Act he is obliged to forward the report to Parliament via the Office of the Speaker. Instead he chose to share it first with the Department and then the families of the deceased. Is this not tantamount to treating this August House with utter disdain?  In the absence of the full report, how are we, the elected representatives of the people, to fulfil our oversight responsibility of holding the Department and the Executive accountable?

Furthermore, the Commission of Inquiry was at the time compromised by damning allegations by a former official within the Department, whereby it was alleged that some documents submitted as part of the investigation were falsified by the Department itself.  These allegations which threatened the integrity of the Commission have now been proven to be true, as the Premier informed us that the matter is now under investigation by SAPS.

The DA calls on the Minister to tell this House what actions he will be taking against those found responsible for this tragic incident. The buck stops with him. In any self-respecting democracy, under similar circumstances, he would have been obliged to resign. The question is will he take responsibility?

He must do this in the interest of transparency and sound governance. How owes it to KZN’s taxpayers.  Most importantly he owes it to the families of the deceased.