A proposal to increase the validity period of the new driving licence card from five to eight years is a positive step that could benefit South African motorists. However, the cabinet has yet to give final approval to this decision.
Sindisiwe Chikunga, Minister of Transport, confirmed that her department is eager to present this proposal to the cabinet as soon as possible. The decision to extend the validity period follows an investigation commissioned by former Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to study international trends in driving licence card validity.
Minister Mbalula announced plans to introduce a new smart card driving licence in South Africa in 2023 back in 2022.
The introduction of the new card has been planned for some time, according to Department of Transport (DoT) spokesperson Collen Msibi. A tender process was launched following cabinet approval for the new licence card in August 2022. Unfortunately, the initial tender process resulted in a “no award,” prompting a re-advertisement and closure in May of this year.
The Department of Transportation anticipates that the new driver’s licence card will be available before the end of the fiscal year 2023/24. However, because the tender process is still ongoing, no details about the acquisition of card production machines or their cost have been disclosed.
The number of card-producing machines is critical for motorists, particularly those seeking licence renewals, because South Africa’s current production machine has experienced multiple breakdowns in recent years. Because of these technical issues, there was a backlog in card production, forcing some drivers to drive with expired licences through no fault of their own.
Furthermore, the DoT has not been fully transparent in responding to various public questions, raising concerns about the tender process’s integrity. Some of these questions include why the first tender was not awarded, how many bids were received for the tender that closed in May 2023, the status of the current tender, and where the published tender can be found.
Minister Mbalula outlined his plans for the new card’s pilot phase, which will run from 1 November 2023 to 31 March 2024. Following this period, the current driver’s licence and the obsolete equipment used to produce it will be decommissioned on April 1, 2024.
The transition to the new driving licence cards will take five years, with current cards valid until March 31, 2029. Mbalula assured the public that the new licence cards would not impose financial burdens on motorists, stating that the government has no plans to tax people for the upgrade.
While the proposed extension of the validity of the driving licence card to eight years provides some relief, some question why it was not extended to a decade, as is the norm in many countries. Wayne Duvenage, CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), expressed concern about the process’s lack of transparency.
When the card-producing machines broke down, Outa conducted an online presentation to Minister Mbalula, exposing corruption in the booking of driving licence card renewals and issuance, according to Duvenage. Former Transport Minister Dipuo Peters also gazetted amendments extending the validity period to ten years, which were later “quietly ungazetted” without explanation, according to the presentation.
He also expressed his concern about the repeated issuance of tenders in recent years, which resulted in no awards and raised suspicions of corruption. According to Duvenage, the lack of transparency allows the DoT to gain insights into tenders and potentially favour specific entities.
The public is sceptical due to the lack of transparency in the procurement and tendering process. The Automobile Association (AA) spokesperson Layton Beard stated that while the proposed eight-year validity period is an improvement, a 10-year period would be ideal. He emphasised the significance of transparency in the process in order to avoid negative perceptions of the government’s intentions.
Finally, the proposed extension of the validity of the driving licence card to eight years represents a positive step towards efficiency and convenience for South African motorists. Concerns about transparency in the tender process, on the other hand, must be addressed in order to restore public trust in the government’s decision-making. As the implementation of the new driving licence cards approaches, the Department of Transportation must provide clarity on a number of issues, including the acquisition of card production machines and their cost. A transparent process will not only ensure the new cards’ success, but will also demonstrate the government’s dedication to serving the public’s best interests.