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Published: 12 Jul 2004
|Radebe: South African Transport Conference (12/07/2004)|
Source: Ministry of Transport
Title: J Radebe: South African Transport Conference
SOUTH AFRICAN TRANSPORT CONFERENCE OPENING ADDRESS JEFF RADEBE, MP, MINISTER OF TRANSPORT, Pretoria, 12 July 2004
The underlying purpose of any transport system is to move people and goods efficiently, as cheaply as possible, and safely across or through different mediums such as air, land and sea. These days most of these mediums are already quite saturated and congested, particularly those on land. In other words, the primary task facing transport systems is the need to accommodate growing demands through population growth and migration, urban development and increased capacity in trade and commodity flows within limited boundaries. Thus environment and spatial issues emerge as crucial components of all transport planning and implementation.
The renovation and upgrading of our South African transport system is constrained by inadequate historical investment in infrastructure, as well as by the spatial legacies of apartheid planning and under-development, including a shortage of sufficient skills within government and the private sector that would allow the innovation within our country's transport sector to be more effective in its application. Alongside these major constraints, however, are a number of opportunities that should help move us forward. These opportunities include a proud history of engineering and innovation that requires major support from government and the private sectors. There is also the awareness that our infrastructure and operating and management systems are not up to scratch and that we face the danger of falling even further behind the general economic development that we have experienced since South Africa returned to the community of nations as a respected and responsible trading partner, investment destination and place to visit. However, rather than bewail the problems that exist in our transport system, we should all take these as challenges to be overcome, and in this way, transform even the way that we look at the issues.
The Conference programme provides some flavour to what I want to say this morning. You have managed to balance a number of very technical and engineering-specific subjects alongside more general policy considerations. Scattered throughout are a number of papers that deal with specific case studies of regional developments or of individual projects that cover the transport sector in all its intricacy. I believe that organisers and participants alike can be proud of the expertise, experience and enthusiasm that this Conference has brought together, and I look forward to any conclusions and recommendations that might emerge from your proceedings.
I am not going to attempt an overview of Government's policies on each and every item on your busy agenda. I prefer, as this is an opening address, to give you a sense of where Government is taking transport and the role it perceives for the transport community in South Africa and beyond our borders. But first allow me to reflect ever so briefly on where we have come from.
The Department of Transport recently published a brief overview of transport's progress over the past decade, the first ten years of democracy in our country. A primary success I would suggest is the compilation of detailed policy and strategy statements and various White Papers that laid the foundation for the basic legislative framework that allows for efficient and effective planning and implementation. These policy frameworks have allowed us as government to steadily increase the amount of funding for transport infrastructure initiatives in particular over the past few years. Already we are seeing the benefits of such funding and I suggest that as we review our budgets over the next few years, we will see more targeted spending through increased funding for transport related infrastructure, safety and operations.
Across all sectors, there has been significant investment in airport upgrading and development including the R706m Johannesburg International project, Cape Town's R118 million upgrade, Durban's R110million and other projects in airports in places like Port Elizabeth and East London. Government contributed some R884million for the remodelling and refurbishment of rail commuter stations, whilst the private sector has provided investment to the tune of about R1, 6 billion in more than 120 projects on land and properties adjacent to and surrounding rail commuter stations.
The ports and harbours have witnessed the construction of new terminals, perhaps the most notable of which are the specialised facilities for motor-vehicle movements at Durban and East London, and of course the Coega development is making waves in the Eastern Cape and will have an impact far inland as well when it is complete. Road safety has been enhanced through the reorganisation of the Arrive Alive campaign and the procurement of new technological solutions.
By any standards, these are significant steps in what is going to be long journey to eradicate past under-investment, maintenance backlogs and move towards developing a sustainable transport system geared to cope with ever-expanding demands. But laws and strategy statements by themselves do not simply improve how the transport system operates and functions. People are needed for that; and most often it is people interacting with various technological and engineering responses that advance the system. I am acutely aware that the National Land Transport Transition Act of 2000 has been implemented unevenly across the various government jurisdictions, and that capacity issues still bedevil many of our attempts to improve the transport and logistics network in our country. More attention needs to be given to the work of the Transport Education and Training Authority to ensure that it provides adequate training to people in sufficient numbers to create the critical mass of skilled personnel available to the transport community generally. Simply filling gaps, or indeed simply trying to keep pace with the loss of skills across the sector is not good enough and will prove to be a wasted effort in the long run if we do not drive the training agenda with greater vigour. So far, we have identified 8 components of the transport community for special attention - these, as you well know, include aerospace, maritime, freight handling, forwarding and clearing, road freight and road passenger. It is clear that we will need to expand our work in all these areas, as well as identify more areas for attention.
I am quite delighted that a number of the participants at this Conference are themselves students who bring their youth and enthusiasm to the transport sector generally. Government is pleased to note that many private sector companies have themselves taken on the task of providing additional training and resources to help overcome the horrors of our Bantu education past. These initiatives complement, and in many instances actually go beyond government-led initiatives, and are clear indications that the transport and transport-related community is committed to the transformation of the sector generally.
As we all know, the transport portfolio spreads responsibilities and allocates authority to all three spheres of government in South Africa. At one level, this dispersion of responsibilities has led to some confusion over which sphere should take the lead in certain instances, and, probably more critical, where the buck ultimately stops. The confusion has been most readily seen, for example, in the rather outdated road classification system which, fortunately, is under review at all levels, and I would suggest that we need to align our road classification system with the imperatives of development in our country.
This Conference comes just a few weeks too early for any major announcements that will boost the transport community. At the end of the month I am hoping to release an analysis of transport use, particularly by commuters across the length and breadth of our country. In this regard it is apt that the paper on preliminary results of the survey prepared for this conference has been withdrawn. It is better to deal with such an important issue in its totality, rather than in an ad hoc manner. Nonetheless, we can say that the survey provides quite an eye-opener for policy makers and strategists alike, and I hope it will go a long way to help build a more coordinated approach to transport issues across all spheres of government.
Towards the end of the year, and staggered through the last quarter, a number of other plans will be released as well. These include the infrastructure investment plans for state-owned enterprises and agencies. The transport sector will of necessity feature strongly through Transnet and its divisions. ACSA likewise is re-examining its budgets for the forthcoming period and we have already released some details of how they have re-jigged funding to meet the tremendous boost provided by the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
At a policy level, though, we are steaming ahead to develop an integrated transport system through the development of new infrastructure where necessary and where possible, through upgrading and realigning existing infrastructure, and through developing innovative means to ensure its maintenance and longevity through adequate financing mechanisms and the use of labour or employment intensive methods of construction. Thus, we can look forward to a great deal of activity in our rail and road sectors, including new investment in important development corridors that are easily identified simply by looking at an economic map of the country. This will be accompanied by the identification and encouragement of new corridors in more remote areas of the country, and the growth of more local and regional economies through the establishment of ribs and spines such as rural access roads, more effective use of rail and major road routes and so on.
I notice that both the Amadiba Road and the Kei Rail Project are part of your conference agenda. Both of these projects provide us with splendid examples of what can be done with a little bit of creative thought that derives from a people-cantered approach to development issues.
The driving force behind these infrastructure initiatives is of course the need to develop a seamless logistics system, and one that is characterised by an efficient flow of freight and cargo that promotes rather than undermines our economy's global competitiveness. It is a matter of great concern that the poor performance of the transport system across all modes is imposing huge costs on business activity and consumers alike in South Africa. It is necessary to restructure the transport system generally to make sure that logistics, or the lack thereof, does not act as a restraint on economic growth, employment and sustainable development. Fortunately, a great deal of work has already been done to identify the root causes of much of the problem and solutions have been identified and now need firm and swift implementation.
Just to give you an indication of how poor transport systems impact on economies, let me refer to UNCTAD's 2003 Review of Maritime Transport. They found that in 2001, the total freight costs as a proportion of import value of goods for developing countries in Africa, was 12.65%, compared to an average of 8.7% for developing countries elsewhere in the world. Land-locked countries in Africa have to endure costs of some 20.69%, whilst the average -cost for sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, was 13.84%. The report also found that non-distance related costs such as port tariffs and border post charges ranged between 12 and 40% of the total costs of inland transport. The cost to the SADC region of border post delays was estimated at some USD 48 million annually. Clearly, something has to be done, and done fast if NEPAD has any chance of success.
Another set of realities needs to be taken into account as well as we develop our integrated and multimodal approach to the transport system. These relate to the division of labour that exists between different modes, between road and rail on the one hand for example. The importance of an adequate road system cannot be underestimated. In South Africa for example more than three times the amount of freight is carried on road compared to rail.
Across Africa a similar picture emerges though with some notable exceptions where navigable waterways feature more prominently than both road and rail. Essentially, the continent shares a paved road network that is dispersed, generally is not well-maintained, and is made all the more impossible by the common problems of overloading, concentrations of heavy vehicles, unroadworthy vehicles and so on. Whereas policy and law enforcement are of course critically important, under-investment remains a central issue. But we also need to move away from debates and discussions that tend to isolate individual modes, and concentrate more on issues of appropriate use, their inter-relationship and so on.
Another area of major concern and focus that will become clearer by September or so is the public transport question. South Africa's citizens require an effective, efficient, safe, reliable and coordinated public transport system that covers urban and rural areas. Currently, the entire public transport system is under review, with a lot of time going into looking at the subsidy system.
Subsidies in the public transport system are nothing less than government interventions to foster equality of access to transport through the affordability of basic services in socio-economically depressed areas. Over the years is has become quite clear that there are many instances where the application of some subsidies in the bus and rail sectors have not had the results we intended.
At the same time, the role of the minibus taxi and the existence of the minibus taxi commuter must also be accommodated in any coherent public transport system, including its subsidy element.
The supply of public transport is the responsibility of provinces and local authorities. We need to develop a system with uniform standards but which take into account whatever peculiarities and special needs the local areas have. As we struggle to correct the spatial urban imbalances created by separate development and apartheid where workers normally live many, many miles from their places of work or indeed from where they can seek work and employment, we must accept that the urgency and form that our public transport system must take will have some unique patterns.
As far as improving public transport services, three initiatives stand out. The first is the taxi recapitalisation process that now awaits negotiation with preferred bidders around affordability to government, profitability to taxi-owners/drivers and of course to commuters. The second is the proposal to eradicate the fragmentation of the institutional framework that governs SARCC, Metrorail and Shosholoza Meyl through the combination of these three services to provide a streamlined all-inclusive rail commuter and long-distance passenger service. Once again, this is not a simple exercise and requires inputs from all stakeholders, including organised labour. The third important element is a sustainable rural public transport platform. Most of the provinces have done some fine work to incorporate this issue in their rural transport development programmes, and we have already seen some progress in areas where new rural access roads have been built where public transport has emerged to alleviate some of the hassles of travel in remote areas.
This brings me to another interesting area of the transport sector, namely the impact of increased access to and from various areas. Generally, we tend to concentrate on how greater access for people and the transport of freight is good for local economies, providing links to the outside world, and improving social service delivery and so on. However, we must also consider the important link between transport systems and the migration of health hazards, and work out suitable measures to monitor, assess and counteract such problems. As we know, HIV and AIDS are of great concern to the long-distancing trucking community and education and prevention steps are in place that need to be strengthened.
Similarly, the outbreak of SARS in recent times emphasised once again how international travel has become a potential conduit for life-threatening diseases. What seems to be less appreciated is the manner in which certain policy decisions can have a negative impact through the encouragement of wholly unforeseen circumstances. My interest in this aspect of the transport/health matrix was peaked by the experience of the USA in the 1970s. At that time, the USA imported used tyres from Asia, mainly Japan and Taiwan where the practice of re-treading or recapping is illegal. The surplus of worn tyres in these countries was successfully exported to the USA, and specifically to Houston, Texas. To cut a long story short, old tyres are an ideal habitat for certain species of mosquitoes that thrive in the almost inevitable build up of water deposits inside the old tyres. During the 1980s, the larvae of one particularly aggressive mosquito made the long trip to the US in one batch of these tyres, and rapidly spread through many areas of the USA where its discovery in 1983 spread some alarm among health authorities. The moral of the story is that as we open up and improve our own transport systems across the continent and within our own country we must remember that many parts of remain infested with insect borne diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, West Nile fever, and various types of encephalitis. Anyone who has travelled in Zambia and other central African countries will know the hazards of the tse-tse fly and the precautions taken en route against it. More people travelling, more cargo being transported, along more and more routes allow for the possibility of more vermin and nasty bugs to travel along too. May I be so bold as to suggest that a separate session on these issues be included in the programme for next year's conference as I am unaware of any major discussions on these points in our country.
Finally, let me turn briefly to the question of South Africa's role in African transport infrastructure and system development. Our resources are well-known and appreciated across the continent. For a variety of reasons I do not need to go into, our country's transport infrastructure system dwarfs much of the sub-Saharan area. For example, 91% or sub-Saharan African or 71% of African rail freight by volume is carried on the South African rail system, where our fleet represents 74% of the sub-Saharan and 62% of the African rail freight fleet.
South Africa and Egypt share the largest and busiest container ports on the continent. However, the transport system in Africa, particularly road, rail and rivers and lakes, is diverse. All of us need to improve our infrastructure through whatever means possible. Many countries have chosen concession architectures, public-private partnerships and even outright privatisation across rail, road, ports and airline and airports. Others rely on donor funding to boost domestic funding of key strategic routes.
South Africa's role is to support and participate in initiatives that will develop new systems for the encouragement of economic and social development generally. The Transport Department has entered into a number of country-to-country agreements that combine the resources of various African countries to help build infrastructure across the region and the continent as a whole.
These responsibilities extend into the search and rescue arena, port development in Ghana, rail concessions, and the extension of information and communication technologies. In the aviation field, it is my hope that South Africa's role in the presidency of AFCAC will help to implement more speedily the requirements of the 13 Yamassoukro Declaration and other important initiatives to open our skies and to improve safety and security in Africa's skies. This is important work and we believe that whilst we have a great deal to offer the continent, the simple fact remains that we also have a great deal to learn from them as many countries have longer experience in a range of transport related areas.
In conclusion, I have merely outlined a number of areas and themes that have emerged recently as priority areas for action. The list is certainly not exhaustive, and I am pleased that members of the Department will address conference sessions on a number of specific items where they will be able to elaborate on some of the issues. Our activity is ongoing, and in the coming months we can look forward to the passage through Parliament of the Ports Bill, the finalisation of the public transport review, the infrastructure investment plans, ongoing work towards integrating planning around the 2010 World Cup to make sure that useful infrastructure lasts longer than the event itself, the development of a maritime policy for South Africa by March next year, and so on.
In the meantime, I wish your conference every success, and look forward to a long and healthy collaboration between government and this important transport forum. My door is open to the transport community, and I will be delighted to meet as many of you as possible during the course of my time as Minister of Transport.
I thank you.
Issued by: Ministry of Transport
12 July 2004
Source: Department of Transport (http://www.transport.gov.za)