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Consumer watchdog says fee hike must match service delivery

by Sunday Express
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Rethabile Pitso

Consumer Protection Association (CPA) Director, Lehlohonolo Chefa, has welcomed government’s proposal to increase charges for services such as car-registration and new drivers’ licences but warns this should also mean improved service delivery.

In her 2016/2017 budget speech delivered a fortnight ago, Finance Minister Dr ‘Mamphono Khaketla proposed government ministries review fees for services to generate revenue in light of declining Southern African Customs Union (SACU) income.

Dr Khaketla said Public Works and Transport was among ministries that would be hiking fees during the first quarter of the financial year in question.

The price of obtaining driver’s licenses and registering a vehicle, as well as toll fees were among the services targeted in the increases. In addition, the ministry would introduce personalised car registration plates at a higher price, the minister added.

Commenting on the budget statement, Public Works and Transport Deputy Minister, Mokhele Moletsane, said the increase would enable government to cover the costs for such services.

“We are reviewing all the fees that are being paid for services offered by the Department of Transport, including the issuance of permits, driver’s licences, and number plates. At the moment, a driver’s license application costs M100 but we incur a higher cost for producing the licence. Number plates currently cost M50 or M60 a pair but the cost of printing it is so huge.

“Traffic fines will also be increased. Today, a M30 spot-fine is not sufficient to curb road delinquencies. We are working towards ensuring we improve both our services and government income,” he said.

But according to Mr Chefa, the Consumer Protection Association welcomed the minister’s proposal to increase prices against the inflation rate. Such an increase, he added, would ensure services to remain affordable to the public.

“Government has not adjusted prices in a long time and there is a likelihood it has been incurring very high production costs, as a result,” Mr Chefa said.

“We therefore think the minister has been fair to recommend that prices be adjusted in line with the inflation rate so that they do not become too expensive for consumers.”

However, Mr Chefa said the CPA remained concerned about the quality of services offered by the various ministries.

“When we look at the condition of our roads, for instance, we remain concerned about whether toll increments would lead to proper maintenance of infrastructure.

“Traffic lights are also not reliable. It has come to our attention that whenever traffic lights fail, someone is called from neighbouring Ladybrand in South Africa for repairs. This causes unnecessary delays which are proof that that the quality of service in the country is poor.

“However, the minister was silent on this part when she presented the budget so we hope in the final assessment, government is going to consider the importance of improving service delivery.”

Mr Chefa also expressed concern that the Public Works ministry was disregarding useful mechanisms, such as the Roads Management System, to see which areas need maintenance.

“The Roads Management System outlines the entire road infrastructure available in the country but we do not see the Roads Directorate, which is a department responsible for road infrastructure maintenance, making reference to that system. That system has been unused for years when the roads continue to deteriorate.”

He further said the challenges experienced at the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding drivers’ licenses were also cause for concern.

“Home Affairs is facing challenges of issuing licences on time, with applicants having to wait for about one year to get them. Temporary licences issued only take six months before they expire.

“This delay has been costly to truck-drivers employed in countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique who have to come home every six months to renew their temporarily licenses.

“Again, in some countries, the temporary licenses are not recognized which puts the holders in serious trouble with the law.”

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