Inbound tourism 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 which is preventing wheels businesses in tourism from operating.
Tourism transport services are required to have operating licences and, in some cases, accreditation in terms of the National Land Transport Act 5 of 2009. However, many of the applications have remained pending despite, in some cases, these being lodged years ago.
There had also been delays in issuing operating licences to accredited companies, which was especially appalling, said David Frost, CEO of SATSA.
In this case, the NPTR is required to issue an operating licence to the applicant within one working day if it is satisfied that the applicant also complies with the requirements set out in the regulation.
“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 says.
There are many reasons why the NPTR has failed to make decisions on the overdue applications within a reasonable time. The most pressing is that it appears there is nobody currently serving on the NPTR board, while admin staff are not empowered to adjudicate and issue operating licences.
According to Frost, SATSA has made repeated attempts to find out who is appointed to the NPTR board to no avail. Not only is its lack of constitution unlawful, it also creates an impossible, irrational and tragic conundrum for affected companies. “How can they continue to operate their tourist transport services while remaining legally licensed?
“The answer is, they cannot, unless and until the NPTR is properly constituted and carries out its duties efficiently, timeously and lawfully.”
Letter of demand
In its letter of demand, SATSA called on Minister Mbalula to provide the identity of the individuals currently serving on the NPTR board and their area of expertise. This should be furnished in a written reply by no later than January 31, 2022.
The association has further required the Minister to inform it of the deadline by which the NPTR will be properly constituted and the steps that will be taken to achieve this if it is found that no, or insufficient, people are currently serving on the NPTR.
“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,” said Frost.
Crisis pre-dates COVID-19
The NPTR crisis goes back many years and has nothing to do with the COVID pandemic. Since the end of 2019 there has been no functioning board. Tour operators who have applied for new operating licences in July 2019 are still waiting. Before 2019, when the NPTR still had a functioning board, the situation was not much better.
Tourism Update has reported extensively on this issue, highlighting that many transport operators were forced to close or are facing closure while this issue remains unresolved.
They cannot hire additional staff because vehicles can’t operate. They are spending time out of the business dealing with related red tape. Some are being forced to operate illegally, resulting in vehicles with tourists on board being impounded by traffic officers.
The systemic failure of the NPTR process for obtaining operating licences has caused severe economic and reputational damage to the tourism industry.
Tourism vehicle operators are trying to follow the process but cannot obtain licences timeously. This results in an inability to invest in fleets. Tour operators own assets that cannot generate income but still carry expenses.