The SA Tourism Services Association (Satsa) has labelled a Department of Transport (DoT) statement about the vehicle operating licence backlog for tour operators as “misleading” and “not true”.
The DoT assured tour operators in a statement issued on Sunday – under the headline Transport Department Clears Operating Licence Backlog For Tour Operators in Tourism Sector – that it is racing against time to process all operating licences for tour operators.
It said this follows delays caused mainly by the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to capacity challenges within the National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR) that resulted in a backlog in processing operating licences.
The DoT said that as part of addressing the backlog in renewal applications, now drastically reduced, it has achieved progress in administrative processes, including:
Increasing the capacity of the NPTR support staff by adding 17 positions to urgently deal with public transport issues related to the issuing of operating licences for the transportation of tourists and interprovincial services, with further recruitment underway; and
Redesigning and implementing the National Land Transport Information System (NLTIS) to enable online applications and electronically communicate the real-time status and progress of applications with applicants, with the designs and proposals aligned to some of the proposed solutions presented by the National Red Tape Reduction Task Team and the tourism industry.
The DoT said these measures are meant to improve efficiency and turnaround times.
“The prolonged absence of an NPTR Committee and the ambiguities of interpretation, as well as the implementation of the National Land Transport Act 05 of 2009 (NLTA), will now be a thing of the past for many operators,” it said, adding that an interim committee has been appointed to deal with the backlog.
Regulator has been printing licences for a month
The DoT added that following the appointment of the committee, the regulator has since the beginning of July been printing licences and contacting operators to submit correctly completed and outstanding documentation to enable the smooth flow of application processing.
To date, 227 renewals have been processed, it said.
The DoT said the committee has also committed to engaging with stakeholders to deal with the challenges and grievances of the industry.
“Scheduled stakeholder engagements will sit to create a common understanding and interpretation of the NLTA and its regulations as well as to deal with specific matters raised to date by stakeholders,” it said.
‘Major benefits’ coming
The DoT also assured the tourism industry that it is on course to bring major benefits in the 2022/23 financial year, including:
Approval by parliament of the Transport Appeal Tribunal Amendment Bill;
Full capacitation and operational capability of the NPTR; and
The effective standardisation of Provincial Regulatory Entity business processes that have required review and amendments for compliance with proposed legislative improvements.
The DoT acknowledged the critical role of the tourism sector in the economy and as a conduit for the creation of jobs.
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“Tourism remains an important building block, among others, for the growth of rural and township economies, which must in turn be driven by efficient and integrated transport systems as enablers for the development of the industry, growing the economy and reversing the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.
“The department has therefore ensured it remains an enabler rather than a barrier in the growth path of the tourism industry by improving regulatory and administrative practices for inclusive participation and sector growth. The department also continues to work together with the Department of Tourism and the industry in this regard.”
However, Satsa deputy chair Oupa Pilane said on Sunday the association’s feeling is that the statement “is premature”.
He said Satsa had met the department and agreed on a process, including that they would jointly come up with an action plan to address the challenges facing the industry.
“Despite the fact that they say they are doing what they are doing, the problem is still there.
“It hasn’t gone away. Our tour operators and members are being arrested on the road as we speak right now,” said Pilane.
“So we are still on that trajectory, which says we need to have immediate solutions, which is an amnesty or moratorium.
“To say that they are clearing the backlog, it still does not address the problem and we cannot wait. We don’t know how long it will take for them to clear that backlog,” he added.
“The fact of the matter is that we need our vehicles on the road as soon as yesterday and we have agreed that we are going to meet with the minister before the end of this week to table proposals – and only after that will we then issue a joint statement.”
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Headline ‘not true’
Pilane said the headline of the DoT’s statement (Transport Department Clears Operating Licence Backlog For Tour Operators in Tourism Sector) is also misleading.
“It hasn’t happened. It’s not true. If this [the backlog] was cleared, then there is no need for us to meet with the minister,” he said.
Pilane said transport minister Fikile Mbalula has acknowledged the problem and committed, together with Satsa as a sector, to address it.
“We welcome that. But to then give [issue] a misleading statement, it’s really not honest on their side,” he said.
Satsa, which represents 1 400 companies and is the country’s leading inbound tourism organisation, on 22 June highlighted in a briefing the problems being faced by tour operators because of problems experienced with the NPTR in renewing or obtaining new vehicle operating licences.
Among the problems:
The NPTR has not had a board for most of the past two-and-a-half years, resulting in zero operating licences being processed since December 2019;
The backlog of almost 1 000 tour operator vehicle operating licence applications at the NPTR;
The harassment and fining of tour operators in front of tourists and the impounding of their vehicles; and
The to-date broken promise to void the issuing of route descriptions/radius of operation for tour operators because it is inappropriate for tour operator vehicles.
Satsa called for three interventions to alleviate the situation:
Declare an urgent moratorium to suspend the need for operators to carry operating licences to get all tourism vehicles back on the road immediately;
Appoint a broad task team, including Satsa and other tourism industry representatives, to develop long term solutions and relook the regulation of tourist transport, with a view to deregulating the industry; and
Instruct the new interim NPTR board to follow the law and stop making up their own rules and overstepping their mandate.