Scholar Transport Issue still not Resolved!

Anthony Benadie MPL

Leader of the Official Opposition in the Mpumalanga Legislature

Note: The following Debate was delivered in the Mpumalanga Legislature today by Anthony BenadieMPL the Leader of the Official Opposition during the debate on the removal of the scholar transport function from the Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport, back to the Department of Education.

The management and administration of scholar transport in Mpumalanga has been the shame of this province for over a decade.

The rampant corruption and maladministration of this function has repeatedly tarnished the reputation of this province, and it would appear that the ANC led government has absolutely no intention of ever sorting out the mess this function finds itself in.

Perhaps it is because it is such a lucrative cash cow where many well connected individuals have become instant millionaires by getting their hands on a piece of this very big cake.

However, the Democratic Alliance does not support any proposal to return the scholar transport function from the department of Roads and Transport to the Department of Education, and for one reason only, it is in the department of education that the entire scholar transport crisis originated in the first place.

The problem with scholar transport is not where it is located or who manages it, but rather the greed that associates the lucrative contracts and the total lack of political will to ensure that the service is delivered without fail and without corrupt intentions.

Let me remind this house, that in 2001 scholar transport was allocated a budget of only R8, 2 million. By 2006 this had escalated to R176 million prompting the now well-known probes into this scandal. In this financial year the scholar transport budget has exceeded the R1 billion mark.

Yes, while there is an ever growing demand to transport learners to school, it remains a fact that it is the money associated with scholar transport that makes it attractive, not the noble desire of getting our children to school.

Hon Speaker, why is it, that despite the massive financial allocation we are still unable to administer this function properly, uninterrupted and get our children to school on time every day. Year after year we hear disturbing reports of children left by the road side, not attending school for days or having to walk kilometres upon kilometres to get to school because busses don’t arrive.

In most cases, bus operators cite the non-payment of accounts as the primary reason for scholar transport disruptions, even though poor quality and unroadworthy vehicles also play a direct role.

The real question is why government allows tenders to be sub-contracted in the first place. There can be no other reason than the opportunity to award ‘mega-tenders’ to a select few, who receive exceptional financial gain, but are unable to render the service. It is nothing more than enriching the middle man while the end provider often pulls at the short end of payment stick.

Hon Speaker, this house must call Premier Mabuza to order and insist that all the investigations and reports into scholar transport be made public and that heads must roll. Year after year the premier assures us that the investigations are complete and criminal proceedings are under way, however none of those promises have seen the light of day.

In 2011 we were told that the department was working ‘around the clock’ to ensure the recommendations of the commission of inquiry was implemented, but nothing happened, In 2012, President Zuma himself instructed the Special Investigation Unit to investigate this matter, but still nothing happened, then in May 2013 Premier Mabuza told this house that the details of the case was so sensitive and advanced that he could not reveal the details, yet in July 2013 Public Protector Thuli Madonsela accused Premier Mabuza and his government of ignoring instructions to submit reports, going so far as to say that the provincial government had a sloppy attitude towards the investigations and was concealing evidence.

It is clear that almost 10 years since the scandals around scholar transport started, it is still far from over. While government officials continue to blunder administrative processes, while well connected fat-cats enrich themselves even further and while Premier Mabuza continues to remain suspiciously silent about the matter, the lives of our province’s children continue to put at risk, their education compromised and their chances of success diminished.

Enough of the cat and mouse games in this saga, the truth and nothing but the truth must come out now and those responsible must be held accountable.