New driving licence printing process raises many unanswered questions

Association says citizens have a right to answers on how process is unfolding and how much it will cost.

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

The Association says it takes note of recent media reports, and of a statement by the Department, on the process of securing this equipment. In a statement released on Sunday 9 June, the DoT noted, “… 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.”

“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 says.

When asked by the AA about the GPW’s involvement, the DoT responded by saying, “Once Cabinet gave approval of the card design, the Department was obliged by law to follow a competitive, transparent, and fair tender process, which did not give 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 and 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,” the AA notes. The AA further observes that it seems counter-productive when one organ of State bypasses another organ of State to go to tender.

Extension of validity period of driving licences

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.

The AA is among several civil society organisations to call for such an extension as a means of alleviating pressure on Driving Licence Testing Centres (DLTCs), and as a cost saving measure to motorists who would only have to pay to renew their cards every eight or ten years.

“But we have now been told this proposal has not been tabled to Cabinet. We must question why a move that is supported, and which would benefit South Africans, is not being considered and implemented. We must again ask the DoT to take the country into its confidence and explain why this did not happen, apart from simply saying it will ‘issue a statement on the matter at an appropriate time’, as it did with the latest query from the AA,” the Association says.

“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. 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,” the AA concludes.