Call that corruption exists
In answer to a call made by the portfolio committee on transport on the state of the trucking industry in South Africa, it became evident from responses by the department of transport (DoT); from the Road Freight Association (RFA) and examples given by an independent small operator, that large truckers dominated in an industry in an unfair manner that was rife with corruption.
Mawethu Vilana, deputy director-general DoT, said that going back to 2002/3, the department had begun an exercise to look at how to provide opportunities and also broaden the space for participation by smaller operators in the road freight sector. It became clear that smaller entrants lacked finance; that an “unscrupulous broking sector was part of the industry” and generally there was a lack of skills and know-how in the trucking industry generally due to poor provision of training facilities and an industry which was undercapitalised except but a few large operators.
DOT not playing proper role
Vilana admitted that when it came to black empowerment opportunities, the main player was the department of trade and industry (DTI) and not DoT, DTI having the BEE verification control system in their court, DoT playing virtually no part in either reform of the industry or the development of SMME’s.
On the subject of crime, little could be done about bribery and corruption, Vilana admitted under questioning by parliamentarians, unless legislation was beefed up with proper powers and a full, properly constituted investigation carried out into the industry.
Road users must pay
He also admitted that permit fees were high because of the principle of “user pays” which had been adopted by government “since road truckers caused great damage to the road system.”
Gavin Kelly, RFA said his association had 385 members, with 109 affiliates and 40 associates representing different levels of possible enforcement and ability to develop skills and training but complained of massive permit fees (the last being 412%); large levels of corruption amongst government officers and no value being added by the government’s road agency to the industry in general.
RFA also stated that there appeared to be no proper government road freight strategy and single government officials determined policy without ministerial approval. Kelly said “no real consultation exists between the state road agency and the industry” and it was the RFA view that DoT “was just going through the motions.”
Trucking group says market closed
One medium sized operator, Tramarco, said that despite heavy investment in trucks and bearing in mind the “ever rising price of
fuel”, it was almost impossible to break into the transport business to obtain long-term “tangible” contracts from major mining groups and state utilities. They appeared to feel “safer” using old contacts and larger companies and quite clearly favours were being granted, they said.
Their spokesman said that the entire industry was dominated by a number of large trucking groups and smaller entrants were effectively “locked out” of the industry because the industry was either not regulated properly.
AARTO somewhat dubious
They also said the licensing AARTO system was not working properly; there was a lack of legislative enforcement; too many corrupt officials had too much power and there appeared a lack of interest by large companies generally to uplift smaller operators, little interest in encouraging training and building the trucking job market.
Tramarco said that no favours or finance was called for by the medium and small sized companies but merely a fair chance to compete for tenders. They called on government to provide leverage within its own government departments, state utilities and with industry to break up monopolistic habits and encourage more black empowerment opportunities.
“Large groups and utilities make lots of statements on freeing up the market but nothing happens”, Tramarco said.
MPs demand better skills development
MPs demanded of DoT that concrete steps be taken to assist small entrepreneurs and to provide proof of a record in the area of skills development. “It was clear that little had been done by the DoT in this area”, said one ANC member.
Opposition members said they were convinced that DoT “had no meaningful understanding of what the situation was on the ground.” One MP said the City of Cape Town had provided a solution by cutting the bigger contracts into smaller parts, supplying smaller quantities and increasing the number of entrants slowly. He called on DoT to start thinking of similar solutions on a national scale.
Roads to nowhere
Chairperson Ruth Bhengu told DoT that the meeting had been called because an examples had been given to parliamentarians whereby “large companies gave small companies short-term contracts and rates that would not take them anywhere and businesses that were desperate could not only pay for their trucks but could not maintain them, the business going ‘broke’ as a result”.
There was also an immoral business broking sector emerging, she felt.
Vilana of DoT said there was nothing government could do to protect such entrepreneurs and that this was the nature of the industry which was high capital risk with a road system that was deteriorating.
The committee found this all very unsatisfactory and called for further meetings with DoT stating that these matters had to be resolved and that the challenges facing the trucking industry were to be investigated further. Also cross-parliamentary meetings with public enterprises and trade and industry committees were to be called. DoT was told it would be re-called for further reports.
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