By Rapula Moatshe for IOL
The Department of Transport has come under fire from the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) for keeping the public in the dark about the time frame for repairing a printing machine for driving licence cards since it broke down in November last year.
The machine breakdown had reportedly caused a massive backlog of 383 000 licence cards as of December 1.
On Tuesday 11 January Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula, announced that the driver’s licence print machine is currently in Germany for repairs. “The license machine is in Germany, it has broken,” Mbalula said. Minister Mbalula also mentioned that he will announce measures for temporary licences.
Outa chief executive, Wayne Duvenage expressed shock at the manner in which the department failed to avoid the backlog of licence renewals by securing a back-up machine.
“To think that we have one machine that makes licence cards in this country and then that machine breaks down and three months later it is still not fixed. This is serious,” he said.
He also questioned the previous explanation by the department that the machine broke down as a result of flooding.
“Ain’t this machine protected? We don’t even know whether that is the real reason. It was an old machine and probably not maintained, but whatever it is, it is not an excuse,” he said.
In 2019 the department apparently ignored a warning by DA MP and member of the transport portfolio committee Chris Hunsinger about the lack of a back-up plan during an oversight visit to the Driving Licence Card Account facility.
At the time, Hunsinger cited that R640 million of the 2018/2019 transport budget was not spent and could have been used to replace the machine.
Duvenage also slammed Mbalula for the delays in switching the country to a new driving licence card.
“So we hear a lot of talk and no action. And we are not surprised that we find ourselves in this sort of situation where there is now a backlog of driving licences,” he said.
Department spokesperson Lawrence Venkile didn’t respond to questions on the repair delay and the backlog.
Duvenage said: “How long does it take to fix a machine? Unless it is so outdated and so old that its parts don’t exist anymore.”
Mbalula had previously said the machine was older than 20 years. The department had also undertaken to issue a contract for procuring a new machine in the 2020/2021 financial year.
Duvenage attributed the situation to bad administration and no accountability in the department.
“They don’t keep society informed and they don’t update us about what is happening,” he said.
Outa has also reiterated its call for the grace period to be extended beyond March 31 this year in order to deal with the backlog.
The organisation has written a letter to Mbalula to consider the possibility of extending the grace period.
Duvenage also said the country should consider extending the process of renewing licences to every 10 years, instead of five years.
“There are many examples of licences being renewed after every 10 years, even in South Africa it was discussed some years back. I think in 2013 it was agreed to by (then) minister Dipuo Peters, and then there was an about-turn and the whole plan was scrapped,” Duvenage said.