Driving licence chaos in South Africa

 ·6 Mar 2023

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) says that the Department of Transport is about to get a brand new minister – but little has been done to resolve the myriad of issues it currently faces.

Ahead of president Cyril Ramaphosa’s planned announcement of his new cabinet, the civil action group said that questions still surround various plans and proposals announced by outgoing minister Fikile Mbalula.

This includes the proposal to extend the validity of licence cards beyond five years, procuring a new card production machine to replace the faulty one, and plans to tackle widespread corruption at Driving Licence Testing Centres (DLTC) across the country.

According to Andrea van Heerden, the senior legal project manager at Outa, the buck stops with the transport minister to resolve these issues – whoever that may be.

There are many hanging threads left for the new minister to fix:

Ten-year card extension

Outa called on the minister of transport to publish regulations extending the validity period of the driving licence cards from five to ten years.

According to the organisation, an extension requires a change in regulations – a process that is simpler than altering legislation.

“In 2013, the then minister Dipuo Peters gazetted regulations extending the validity to 10 years but later withdrew this without explanation,” said Outa.

The organisation now wishes to uncover why the delay has lasted so long.

In February 2022, the minister announced that he had commissioned the Road Traffic Management Cooperation (RTMC) to research the extension issue.

The minister told Outa that the department would decide on the status quo of five years after commissioned research involving the comparison of different countries was completed.

“Should we arrive at a conclusion informed by the research, we will immediately spring into action,” the minister said.

A year later, there is still no decision. At last reporting, Mbalula said that his department would put forward a proposal to extend the cards to eight years, but this never materialised.

“In November 2022, Outa filed an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) to the RTMC, calling for a copy of the research report on the validity period to get clarity on how the eight years were decided and for clarity on the fees.”

“The RTMC refused this, and in February 2023, Outa filed an internal appeal against the refusal. The outcome is awaited,” said Outa.

New card machine

Producing driver’s licence cards is the sole duty of the Driving Licence Card Account, an entity under the administration of the department of transport.

“The current machine – the only one in South Africa – is old and was out of service from November 2021 to January 2022, and the DLCA annual report for 2021/22 says this resulted in a backlog of 639,000 cards.”

On 31 August 2022, Cabinet approved the replacement of the driving licence card with one with more secure design features.

A tender was issued in November and subsequently extended with no clarity regarding if it has come to an end or is still underway.

“The costs are also unclear. The DLCA annual report notes that in March 2022, the DLCA had an accumulated surplus of R448 million, so presumably, this will be used to buy the machine,” Outa said.

Corruption and mismanagement

Outa said that an over-complicated department with multiple divisions managing separate but overlapping processes has opened up opportunities for corruption and mismanagement.

In September 2021, the RTMC proposed new fees, including charging motorists R250 just to make an online booking for a slot to renew a driving licence, over and above the transaction fees.

In response, Outa wrote to the minister and the RTMC, asking for an explanation on the fee proposals – the department subsequently dropped the fee from the final version.

The fees are, however, shrouded in secrecy. This, in turn, allows for rampant corruption.

“The RTMC sets them in consultation with the minister and provincial MECs, so fees can differ from province to province with no explanation.”

Outa’s application for more information under a PAIA from the RTMC on how fees are calculated was refused.

Staff payments have also increased massively at the DLCA.

The national budget for 2023 showed that the headcount increased from 56 staff in 2021/22 at a cost of R18.7 million to 71 staff in 2022/23 at a cost of R39.7 million.

“The staff cost thus goes from an average of R333,928 per person in 2021/22 to R559,154 per person in 2022/23 – an increase of 67% in a single year.

Outa said that it finds this outrageous, particularly for an entity that fails to deliver.

In September 2022, a report commissioned by the Gauteng Premier’s Office found widespread entrenched corruption and chaos in the province’s driving licence system, particularly at the DLTCs.

The organisation said that it believes neither the DLCA nor the RTMC is delivering value for money. Instead, prioritising revenue generation above service delivery.

Outa said that South Africa has a system rotten with corruption and failed administration, coupled with an unacceptable poor record of road safety.

This is a national crisis that has not been addressed, it added.

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