PRESS STATEMENT ON LEARNER TRANSPORT

 

INTRODUCTION

 

The purpose of this press conference is to give an update, context and clarity to all Learner Transport related issues. It is common knowledge that this subject has been receiving extensive media coverage and as a Department, we have responded to various media enquiries regarding this however it proved not to have sufficiently satisfied all the probing questions.

 

We are doing this so that the beneficiaries of this noble initiative, our learners, who in their majority are in the rural and far-flung areas of our Province, can be re-assured that we are more committed than ever before to administer a safe and reliable Learner Transport service.  We are mindful of the challenges and concerns that our communities experience from time to time and we are here to set the record straight.

 

BACKGROUND

 

The Learner Transport function was successfully migrated from the Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison to our Department on the 1st April 2018.

 

A total number of 24 741 learners from 267 schools are benefitting from this programme. Through this initiative, we have contracted and created a stable income to 224 Operators who are servicing a total number of 414 routes across the Province.

 

In terms of our footprint, John Taolo Gaetsewe District has the highest number of learners ( 9 354), followed by ZF Mgcawu ( 6 534), Frances Baard ( 5 475), Pixley Ka Seme ( 2 150) and lastly, Namakwa ( 1 228) learners.

 

CHALLENGES EXPERIENCED

 

During 2017, the Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison, submitted copies of the contracts of the learner transport operators to the NCDoE. When the function was transferred the NCDoE issued other order numbers to the operators to allow the payments of operators to be done smoothly. The following challenges were then experienced:

 

When the first payments had to be processed it was discovered that not all the contract information was submitted. For example, the contracts of certain operators were issued for specific amounts. The order numbers were then issued based on the contract amounts. However, when those operators submitted their invoices the invoices reflected increased amounts. The Department then had to request DTSL to submit the corrected information of the operators so that the systems of the NCDoE could be updated. This caused delay in the payments of those operators.

 

It also happened that in a number of instances, operators would change their bank accounts without informing the Department. Payments would then be processed into the old bank accounts and then it would be discovered at a later stage that those operators were not paid. The Department then had to request operators to submit their correct banking details. This also caused delays in the payments.

 

PAYMENT AGREEMENT OF SERVICE PROVIDERS

 

The payments of the operators are centralized at the Education Department Head Office.

The Public Finance Management Act prescribes that invoices must be paid within 30 days from the date they are received. This means that if operators submit their invoices at the end of a particular month the Department has got 30 days to pay those invoices.

 

In addition to this the contract stipulates in Paragraph 7.4. that:

 

“As soon as possible, but not later than seven days after the end of each month, The Operator must submit to the Department or its Authorized Representatives a monthly claim form in the format prescribed by the Department.”

 

However, to assist the operators to receive their payments on time the Department changed the submission date of invoices to the 15th of each month. The operators can now collect their supporting documentation from the schools as from the 15th of the month and submit their invoices together with the supporting documentation. Operators are therefore submitting their invoices within the same month they are transporting the learners in. However, invoices that are submitted late will be processed late. A system is also in place where the invoices are recorded as they are received.

 

INCREASE IN TARIFFS EFFECTED

 

Tariff Benchmarking Process

 

In 2017 the NCDoE conducted an exercise to benchmark the tariffs of the Northern Cape against market related prices. The Education Department acquired the services of a transport expert to conduct this study. A report was produced in this regard and the exercise showed that the tariffs paid to operators in the Northern Cape are much lower than market prices.

 

Tariff Negotiations

 

In the beginning of 2018 the Education Department conducted roadshows with the learner transport operators. One key challenge raised in the roadshows was that operators indicated that they did not receive any increases since July 2012.The operators also indicated that they intend to pursue this matter with the Education Department.

 

A matter of concern is that the operators never raised this matter with the DTSL for the past 5 years. They waited until the function became the responsibility of the Education Department.

The Department was then approached by a group called the NC Learner Transporters Association who requested a meeting with the Head of Department. This meeting was held was held on Tuesday, 12 June 2018. Key to their issues was that the tariffs that were never adjusted since 2012/2013. The NCDoE then agreed to look into the matter of a tariff adjustment. Task Teams were then established to investigate various options on how the tariffs could be improved.

 

The reality is that the operators did not receive any increases since the last 4.5% increase that was received in 2012. However, the price of fuel increased over 46% over the period of 5 years.

 

On 19 July 2018 the NCDoE reached the following agreement with the Learner Transporters Association:

 

·     A backdated tariff increase from 2014 to 31 March 2018 will be implemented. The resolution is that Department of Education will honour the agreement to pay CPI for the past 5 year period.

·       The Department of Education also agreed to implement a 31% tariff increase backdated to 1 April 2018 to those service providers who qualify. The 31% is based on the accumulated CPI Index since 2012.

 

CURRENT STATUS OF THE INCREASED TARIFFS

 

The Department finalized the increase of the service providers. The Department also revised the current rate card to ensure that operators are in future paid the increased per kilometre category rates. The rate card has been signed off by the Head of Department.

 

This approached also dealt with the negotiated contracts, where certain operators in the past negotiated with DTSL individually to receive more money than the prescribed category tariff. The beneficiaries of these negotiated contracts will not receive any tariff adjustments as they are already getting more than the adjusted tariffs. As a result 74% of the operators received an increase. The other 26% do not qualify for an increase as they have already been remunerated higher tariffs.

 

Letters were already issued to all operators who qualify to inform them about the improvement in their tariffs.

 

CHALLENGES

 

After the letters were released a few operators expressed their dissatisfaction with the increases, claiming that the calculations of the Department were not correct. However, the Department used the contract rates which they have signed for as the basis for the calculations.

 

A meeting took place on Monday 17 September 2018 with two people claiming to be the Northern Cape Transporters Association. After the meeting they informed the other operators not to accept the calculations of the Department and to reject the tariffs. However, the majority of the operators with whom the Department had individual discussions with indicated that they were satisfied with their payments.

 

An internal Departmental meeting then took place on Tuesday 18 September 2018 where a way forward was discussed. It was then decided to implement the new tariffs and the Department will deal with individual cases where there are complaints. The Department also decided not to acknowledge the group who called themselves the Northern Cape Transporters Association as their legitimacy could not be established.

 

This is the same group that organized a march to the ZFM District Office and handed over a petition. From the petition itself it was clear that no operator has signed it therefore the legitimacy of the group is questionable.

 

PROGRESS MADE SINCE TAKING OVER THE FUNCTION

 

In addition to the above, progress has also been made with regards to the following:

 

·       The Draft Learner Transport Policy was developed and ready for comment;

 

·       The Standard Operating Procedures for Managing Learner Transport was developed and circulated for comment;

 

·       A Draft Memorandum of Understanding between the Northern Cape Department of Education and the Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison was developed and in the process to be submitted for comment.

 

WAY FORWARD

 

Implementation of non-functional routes

 

The non-functional routes that were not implemented by DTSL must still be implemented. The Department is monitoring the financial effect of the tariff increases on the current budget to determine how the non-functional routes will be implemented. The districts have already been informed to verify the information of the non-functional routes in the mean time to prepare for implementation.

 

Work study to determine staffing needs

 

The Education Department has acquired the services of a consultancy firm to conduct a work study exercise to determine the human resources that will be needed to manage learner transport services in the Department. This is in line with the EXCO Resolution that the full assessments and analysis of the function be done by the Department of Education to determine the financial and human resources and other matters incidental to the transfer of the function.

This process is still continuing and the proposal of the consultancy firm is expected soon.

I thank you!

 

MR. G.T. PHARASI

SUPERINTENDENT-GENERAL: EDUCATION