South African tourism scuppered by extreme licensing delays

21st January 2022 By: Darren Parker

South African tourism scuppered by extreme licensing delays

Satsa CEO David Frost

The South African Tourism Services Association (Satsa) has sent a letter of demand to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula calling for urgent action to resolve the “unlawful” delays in issuing National Public Transport Regulator (NPTR) licences, as it is hampering wheels businesses in the tourism sector from operating.

Tourism transport services are required to have operating licences and, in some cases, accreditation in terms of the National Land Transport Act. However, many of the applications remain pending despite being lodged years ago.

There have also been delays in issuing operating licences to accredited companies. The NPTR is required to issue an operating licence to the applicant within one working day if it is satisfied that the applicant complies with the requirements set out in the regulations.  

Satsa CEO David Frost said in a statement on January 20 that delays in issuing operating licences to accredited companies was appalling.

“The delay of applications for operating licences and accreditation is unlawful and while we appreciate that the pandemic inevitably caused some delay, this does not excuse or explain the sheer scale of the tardiness of the NPTR,” he said.

The economic consequences of these delays on the South African tourism sector – which employs about 1.5-million people and generates about 10% of South Africa’s gross domestic product – is severe.

Satsa reported that many operators were going out of business and jobs were being lost owing to the one-two punch of Covid-19 lockdowns and the NPTR failing to fulfil its mandate.

In a document drafted by Satsa outlining the problem, it was stated that the NPTR crisis predates the outbreak of Covid-19 and, therefore, has “nothing to do with the Covid-19 pandemic”. The document claims that there has not been a functioning board since 2019, highlighting that tour operators who applied for new operating licences as far back as July 2019 have yet to receive any feedback.

The National Land Transport Act and accompanying Transport Regulations specify that the turnaround times for applications should be no longer than 60 days. Once accredited, operators are supposed to qualify automatically to get their vehicle permits – a process that is not supposed to take more than a day.

“The NPTR never meets these turnaround times and even when there was a board, waiting between 6 to 12 months was the norm. Waiting longer than a year or even two years for a simple operating licence is common,” the Satsa document said.

In October 2021, tourism company Africa Adventure Tourism Network MD Enya Fehler launched a petition on activism website Change.org to compel Mbalula to take action after waiting two full years for approval and receiving no feedback. On January 21, the petition had 507 signatories – most of them tourist operators who are unable to conduct their businesses lawfully through no fault of their own.

Numerous operators have either been unable to operate their vehicles or have made the choice to operate illegally out of desperation – resulting in police impounding vehicles midway through a tour, which effectively guts the business.

Satsa has called on Mbalula to immediately remedy the fact that there have been no NPTR board members since 2019. It has also requested that administrative staff be empowered to adjudicate and issue operating licences.

“By order of the incompetent individuals who oversee the NPTR and chair the board, the process of applying for and obtaining operating licences for tourist vehicles has become far more complex than the law requires it to be,” Satsa lamented.

Satsa said it had made repeated attempts to find out who is appointed to the NPTR board to no avail. It claimed that the lack of constitution was unlawful and that it created an “impossible, irrational and tragic conundrum” for affected companies.

In its letter of demand, Satsa called on Mbalula to provide the identities of the individuals currently serving on the NPTR board and their area of expertise by January 31.

Satsa further demanded that it be informed of the deadline by which the NPTR will be properly constituted and what steps will be taken to achieve this.

“It is also our request that all of the overdue applications will be determined and made available to the affected companies within 30 working days of receipt of this letter.

“If a written reply to these demands is not received by January 31, we will have no choice but to approach the High Court to compel the appointment of persons to the NPTR board and the finalisation of the overdue applications, as well as a suitable order as to costs,” Frost concluded.