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South Africa’s new driver’s licences – Government’s big mess

The Automobile Association (AA) has questioned the ongoing lack of clarity in the acquisition of a new printing machine that will produce the country’s more advanced driver’s licence cards.

In a recent media statement, the Department of Transport (DoT) said that it is “on track” to deliver a new driver’s licence card and the accompanying printing equipment to the country amid challenges of finding suitable service providers.

In response, the AA said: “We question what these challenges are, and how the DoT has since resolved these.”

The AA also queries how the Government Printing Works (GPW), whose mandate covers the printing of 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,” said the association.

A waste of time, resources, and money

According to the DoT, once Cabinet approved the design of the new licence cards, it was obliged by law to follow a “competitive, transparent, and fair tender process, which did not give advantage to any specific service provider.”

The AA notes, however, that the process of procuring the new licence printer has been anything but transparent.

Several tenders have been issued for service providers since November 2022, with the public given little insight into what has been going on behind the scenes.

Tender document showing South Africa’s new licence card

Furthermore, the association contends that the printing of new smart card driving licences should not be very different from printing national ID cards. If there are significant differences, the GPW more so than any other company should be able to make provision for this with relative ease.

“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,” said the AA.

“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?”

According to the AA, government is obliged to find the best solution to produce the new smart driving licences at the lowest cost to South Africans, and the DoT owes citizens an explanation of how it is doing that.

“The fact that the DoT says the process ‘did not give 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,” said the AA.

The organisation further notes that it seems counter-productive when one organ of state bypasses another to go to tender.

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

“We call on the DoT to provide answers to South Africans to show that they have considered this matter carefully, and with due reflection on the costs involved in this exercise, and the costs to motorists who rely on these documents to stay legally on the road.”

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