Learner death toll climbs to 14 this year as DoT dilly dallies over policy

By Rafeek Shah, MPL, DA KZN Spokesperson on Transport:

REPORTS of yet another accident involving KZN school children on the R102 near Ballito on Friday last week are both heart-wrenching and deeply disturbing. The DA extends its sincerest condolences to the parents of four learners who were killed. We also send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured.

Recent research conducted by the DA shows that while the province’s Transport Department (DoT) dilly dallies over policy and bemoans a lack of funding, more and more school-going children are dying on our roads as a result of the Learner Transport Policy not being properly implemented.

According to our figures, a total of 8 learners lost their lives on KZN’s roads in 2014.  The figure to date for 2015 is already 14.  Further research shows that;

–          There were 4 learner transport related accidents last year with 104 children injured.

–          As of today there have already been 5 major accidents this year, with 35 children recorded as having been injured.

These statistics – which are in reality the lives of young people taken too soon – do not bode well for the remainder of the year.

The KZN DoT, under MEC Willies Mchunu,  is responsible for the procurement of service providers, budget control, administration and monitoring of the Learner Transport programme with monitoring currently outsourced at a cost of approximately R9 million.

The programme is currently operational in 11 districts, providing services to 240 schools which benefit 34 814 learners at a cost of approximately R140 million per annum. To add to the DoT’s woes, in 2014 the KZN Education department has submitted an additional list of 116 schools.  According to this, the DoT will have to provide learner transport services to an additional 7 649 learners at an additional cost of R 58,402 million.

The DA appreciates the enormity of the problem – it cannot be denied that demand far exceeds supply.  What is also very clear though is the amount of wasteful and other expenditure incurred by KZN’s DoT which could have been spent on Learner transport

A parliamentary response to the DA by MEC Willies Mchunu, relating to an internal audit report on investigations into allegedly corrupt activities in the DoT during the 2014/2015 financial years reveals that;

–          16 cases of allegedly corrupt activities, involving a staggering R526million, were being investigated by the DoT

–          The cases relate mainly to Supply Chain Management and to lesser extent the Motor Licensing Bureau

–          Bearing in mind that in four cases the amount involved is yet to be quantified, the total tally could be much higher.

If this amount of money had not been misappropriated it could have made it possible for the DoT to extend the Learner Transport Services to thousands of additional deserving learners.

In addition, the Auditor-General’s findings for KZN’s Transport department for 2014/15, showed irregularities totalling R18 371million.  These include Irregular expenditure of R9 192million, unauthorised expenditure totalling R9 106million, fruitless and wasteful expenditure of R73 000.

 

In order to roll out sufficient learner transport, the DoT needs to find an alternate funding and payment model.  Funds must be also be saved and redirected to meeting the financial demands of the Learner Transport Project.

The DA recommends the following in order to speed up this process;

–          Stop the outsourcing of the monitoring function of the project and establish internal mechanisms for the same

–          Root out corruption and mismanagement which are resulting in theft of funds, wasteful and irregular expenditure

–          Deal with amendments to the current MOU signed by the DoT and service providers and stop extending these contracts over and over again

The DA will hold the MEC and his department to the swift completion and proper roll out of the new Learner Transport policy in a bid to alleviate some of the current risks and challenges.

The high number of learner related accidents on our province’s roads cannot continue.  One more death will be one too many.