OPINION | Wayne Duvenage: Driver's licence debacle - just another symptom of a broken transport ministry

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A driver getting his driver's licence scanned
A driver getting his driver's licence scanned
Safely Home by Western Cape Government

It is indeed a very sad reality that the once law-abiding citizen now resorts to pay "corruption fees" to book a driver's licence test slot without thinking twice, a process that once was very easy and free to carry out, writes Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage. 

Citizens appreciate living in a country where the government hears their frustrations and works with society to resolve its issues, especially when it has an impact on their ability to comply with the laws of the land.

The corollary thereof is that, when the state makes it difficult for thousands of its citizens to comply with the law, they become frustrated, desperate and accepting of bribery avenues or non-compliance to placate their angst.

Of greater concern is the behaviour of authorities, who blame the collapse of their administration and systems on the public. Such is the case for hundreds of thousands of citizens unable to apply for new driver's licence testing or to renew their expired licences in Gauteng and other regions.

What matters, first and foremost, is that the authorities conduct a thorough introspective approach to their own administrative deficiencies and engage meaningfully with civil society to find the solutions, before they lay blame on their citizens. Believe it or not (Minister Mbalula and MEC Mamabolo), the overwhelmingly vast majority of people want to do the right thing and comply with the country's laws.

A classic example of the collapse of administratively cumbersome and unworkable systems is that of the e-Toll debacle. Despite the fact that the e-Toll scheme was grossly irrational and failed to obtain the necessary public support, it was doomed to fail as a result of its flawed design and complex applications that made it inefficient, unworkable and, in time, unenforceable.

In a similar vein, the inability of citizens to renew their driver's licences will force society to test the enforceability of these laws.

'Why-bother-as-nothing-will-happen' road

This is (or at least should be) the government's biggest concern, as the inability to curb or enforce compliance on any matter has the tendency to send the public down a "why-bother-as-nothing-will-happen" road. This, in turn, renders the law-enforcement process untenable, no matter how efficient the future administration thereof may become.

This demise of system administration and gross inefficiencies within the transport ministry is not new to the driver's licence issue. For many years, a cancer of system breakdown has been allowed to spread throughout a number of its processes, some of which are witnessed in:

  • The eNaTIS (the Electronic National Traffic Information System), the country's vehicle and licence registry system managed by the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), who have recognised the system's unreliability when it comes to vehicle owners details.
  • The Department of Transport's recent inability to formally launch the AARTO driver's licence Demerit Point system, following years of preparation and months of warning motorists that it would launch the scheme on 1 July this year.  
  • The collapse of the Road Accident Fund is another administrative fiasco within the realm of the Department of Transport.
  • Uncontrollable and ongoing corruption within vehicle licensing and testing centres.
  • The ongoing inability to reduce road fatalities, despite an expensive campaign that saw the launch of the 'Decade of Action' to improve road safety in 2010.
  • Ongoing untaxable taxi industry accreditation and route allocation fiasco.

The biggest concern is the growing rift between the state and its citizens. A "them and us" attitude displayed regularly by the state paints the picture of citizenry as the cause of its inefficiencies and woes, never taking the blame or an introspective look at themselves. The Department of Transport is a big culprit in this arena, habitually blaming their problems on an "errant" society, as opposed to their contribution to their systemic demise.

Inability to enforce the law 

The mere fact that the public are able to run circles around the authorities is an indication of the state's inability to enforce the law or administer their processes. This is indeed a matter that the government (and citizens) should be worried about, the seriousness of which is borne out in the following statement: How easy is it for citizens to drive: (a) an unroadworthy vehicle; (b) which is not registered in the national vehicle registry system; (c) doing so without the driver passing a driver's licence test; (d) being able to do so for years on end and; (e) in the unlikely event of being apprehended is able to bribe their way out of a sticky situation? The answer is… very easy.

ALSO READ: OPINION | Keeping citizens moving in a pandemic: We need more reliable transport and infrastructure

The above reality gives rise to many deaths on our roads and this dire situation sits squarely in the lap of the Department of Transport. Unfortunately, the minister of transport will find it difficult not to extend the already-extended licence renewal deadline of 31 August 2021. It is indeed a very sad reality that the once law-abiding citizen now resorts to paying "corruption fees" to book a driver's licence test slot without thinking twice, a process that once was very easy and free to carry out.   

Hopefully, someday very soon, the department will deal with the underlying issues and corruption that give rise to these headaches for both the state and its citizens. Unfortunately, history and the current lacklustre leadership in this space will remind us not to hold our breath.

- Wayne Duvenage is the CEO at Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).

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