Members of the Portfolio Committee on Transport have called on the Department of Transport not to use Covid- 19 as an excuse for underspending. The department presented its fourth-quarter expenditure to the committee and told committee members that the underspending related to the filling of vacancies and the taxi recapitalisation programme, among other things.

The Department of Transport’s Director-General, Mr Alec Moemi, told the committee that the underspending on taxi recapitalisation is the result of the South African National Taxi Council’s (Santaco’s) dissatisfaction with the R124 000 per Toyota Quantum taxi subsidy, which they claim is too little. “The system was not intended for the department to buy owners new vehicles, but is a subsidy. As far as the department is concerned, the Quantum is fair and it amounts to 30% of the purchase value for new cars.”

Mr Moemi said these challenges have now been resolved with Santaco and the recapitalisation programme is now seeing a spike in expenditure. In addition, he announced that the department will approach National Treasury to request that unused funds in the recapitalisation programme be made available for the Arrive Alive campaign.

Committee Members asked questions about the breakdown of funding for the BRT system in the 12 cities where the programme is either operating or still to come; challenges at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa; and the filling of vacancies. Committee Member Mr Thamsanqa Mabhena said unfilled vacancies in the department is a persistent challenge and the pandemic should not be used as an excuse. He was also unhappy with the plan to move money from the taxi industry recapitalisation to the road safety campaign. “If this is what will happen, it is a mistake and should not be considered. The department needs to improve engagement with the taxi industry,” he said.

Committee member Mr Khethamabala Sithole was opposed to the idea. “We have had the Arrive Alive programme for a long time, but we are not realising success on it.” He asked the department not to use the coronavirus as an excuse for under-expenditure, as the department has had spending challenges for a while.

Portfolio Committee Chairperson Mr Mosebenzi Zwane said the department needs to fill vacancies despite the challenges related to Covid-19. He also reminded the department that recapitalisation in the taxi industry is intended for the eradication of panel vans. “It must never be a norm that the department applies for roll overs. We may allow them because of Covid-19, but that should not recur.”

Mr Moemi clarified that unspent funds at the end of a financial year have to be surrendered to the National Revenue Fund and they are then lost to the transport sector. He said the rollover application is to make use of the the money approved for the Department of Transport. However, he agreed with the committee that the department should not make a habit of applying for rollovers and reiterated the the department had found common ground with the taxi council.

He promised a report for the committee on the reprioritisation of the budget, in order to show the impact of Covid-19 and what the department is doing in response. He also provided an update for the committee on Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s budget challenges, were there is over R18 billion in the capital expenditure budget, but nothing in the operational budget.

Sibongile Maputi

 2 June 2020