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Transparency concerns over new driver’s license printing equipment in South Africa

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By Lee-Yandra Paulsen

Concerns are mounting over the transparency in acquiring printing equipment for new smart card driver’s licenses in South Africa. Organizations assert that the public has a right to know the processes and costs involved. Despite initial challenges in securing suitable service providers, the Department of Transport is on track to deliver the new licenses and equipment.

CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), Wayne Duvenage, voiced significant concerns: “The driver’s licenses have been controversial for a long time. It was Jacob Zuma’s close confidant, Shabeer Shaik, who got the first contract for the current system many years ago, which we believe was secured with corrupt intentions. We have been asking the Minister of Transport and the department for transparency in the procurement process. We need to know where the machine is purchased from and who will manage and maintain it. Initially, the department promised us this information, but they have yet to provide it.”

Duvenage elaborated on the protracted timeline and repeated setbacks: “This card machine and new card process were supposed to be implemented about four to five years ago. There have been four tenders for it, each one cancelled. We are very concerned that this lack of transparency will lead to more corruption.”

Addressing the need for another license printing machine, Duvenage stated, “I don’t think we need more than one. We’ve had one for a long time. You just need to maintain it properly. Typically, there is a maintenance contract, and the company maintaining these machines must ensure minimal downtime, ideally a day or two, with preventative maintenance. When the machine is not maintained, that is a problem. Again, lack of transparency leads to these issues. We do not need two machines; one will suffice if maintained and kept cost-effective.”

Duvenage pointed out the significant costs associated with the licensing process, particularly during sign-ups and renewals at licensing centres or online. “Government departments make a lot of money from these card machines, which is why we believe they don’t want to extend the validity from five to eight or ten years. We have conducted extensive research globally, and the average license validity in most countries is around ten years. There is no need to renew every five years. Most states in the USA have eight-year validity, some countries have 15 years, and one country even has 20 years.”

He highlighted the inefficiency of the current system during a massive backlog: “When we presented our research and suggestions to the government, it would have been easy to fix the backlog by simply extending the deadline. The department seemed keen on increasing the validity to eight years. In fact, in 2013, the minister had already decided to extend it to ten years but later reverted to five years without explanation.”

Duvenage expressed hope for future improvements: “We expect a new Minister of Transport soon. If there is a new Minister of Transport in this Government of National Unity, we hope it will be someone who ensures transparency and works with civil society organizations like OUTA. Together, we can address many inefficiencies. By collaborating, we can show the government how to save billions of rands wasted through unnecessary costs and processes.”

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