New driving licence printing process raises many questions – AA

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PHOTO: WARREN HAWKINS

The ongoing lack of clarity in the acquisition of printing equipment to deliver new smart card driving licences for the country is concerning and raises many unanswered questions on the processes followed by the Department of Transport (DoT) in securing this equipment.

According to the Automobile Association (AA), citizens have a right to know what processes were followed, and how much it will cost.

The AA says it takes note of recent media reports and a statement by the department on the process of securing this equipment. “The Department is on track to deliver a new driver’s licence card and printing equipment for the country amid the initial challenges of finding suitable service provider/s,” the statement read.

“We question what these challenges are and how the DoT has since resolved these. Importantly, we must also ask how the Government Printing Works (GPW) – whose mandate it is to print sensitive national security documents – was involved in this process. The GPW has proven technical expertise to print cards such as these as it already prints the national ID cards used by millions of South Africans,” the association said.

When asked by the AA about the GPW’s involvement, the DoT responded by saying: “Once Cabinet approved the card design, the Department was obliged by law to follow a competitive, transparent, and fair tender process, which did not give an advantage to any specific service provider.”

“Our first concern is that, in our view, the process has not been transparent. In addition, we believe the printing of new smart card driving licences should not be very different from printing national ID cards. And, if there are significant differences, surely the GPW would be able to make provision for this. These are experts in their field, with a proven track record, and not involving them in this process seems a waste of time, resources and, ultimately, money. If the decision is to secure new equipment from an outside source, were all the factors of not using the GPW – and the costs of not printing ‘in-house’ – fully explored? If they were, what was the outcome of this exercise, and if they weren’t, why not?” the AA asks.

The AA says the DoT is obliged to find the best solution, at the best cost to South Africans, to produce the new smart card driving licences. It owes citizens an explanation of how it is doing that.

“The fact that the DoT says the process ‘… did not give an advantage to any specific service provider’ is a somewhat nebulous answer to a specific question on the GPW’s involvement and should be interrogated more thoroughly as this saga unfolds,” the AA notes. The AA further observes that it seems counter-productive when one organ of the state bypasses another organ of the state to go to tender.

The AA also asked the DoT to clarify the issue of the extension of the validity period of driving licences from the current five-year period to either eight or ten years. In August 2022, the then Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula indicated that research – and input from provincial Departments of Transport – supported extending the validity period of driving licences from five to either eight or ten years.

“Unfortunately, there have been too many issues around the delivery of driving licence cards to South Africans in the past. The acquisition of new equipment to print new smart card driving licences should not continue this trend,” the AA concludes.

Compiled by Justine Fortuin