“Judgment about farm roads is an indictment on the Department of Roads and Public Works,” says Vicky Knoetze (MPL) – Shadow MEC for Roads and Public Works.
“I have today put in legislature questions to the MEC for Roads and Public Works, Weziwe Tikana, to ascertain how they are going to budget for claims from farmers for road repairs and what communication has taken place between then and farmer’s associations. Unless there is clarity around these issues, the department is going to find itself in a huge mess.”
The extent of the financial implication can be found in the fact that the department estimates that of the 77 336km of the provincial roads network, 60 000km can be regarded as “rural roads”, of which 37 000km are in need of extensive resurfacing or re-gravelling at a cost of R500 000 per kilometre and not merely simple routine maintenance. What is of concern is that Agri EC obtained quotes for the same work at only R200 000 per kilometre.
The Democratic Alliance in the Eastern Cape welcomes the decision of the High Court on Thursday in which it was ordered that farmers in the province who repair their own roads can bill the Department of Roads and Public Works.
This is an indictment on the DRPW when a court of law has to order a state department to do its job. The department clearly does not have the capacity or the funds to perform in terms of this cornerstone programme which is to develop and maintain the roads network. In fact, there is an R102-billion backlog on roads in the Eastern Cape.
Farmers in the Eastern Cape have had no other option than to repair their own roads for several years due to the fact that their pleas fell on deaf ears and the fact that certain roads and areas were never prioritised. At least now there is light at the end of the tunnel in case of emergency repairs where damage to a road is prohibiting economic transactions, where a road is unserviceable, deteriorated in that it makes driving unsafe, or causes damages to a vehicle and where no vehicle is able to use the road. If the MEC defaults on the payment of the resulting debt due, the individual farmer may institute an action for payment in a court of law.
Simultaneously this judgment is a victory for our judicial system and the separation of powers in that it ensured that justice prevailed for people who had no choice but to carry out and fund the work that their government was supposed to carry out.
The Department of Roads and Public Works are facing a double-edged sword. They will now have to pay out claims for work done on the severely neglected farm roads and submit a plan and report on how they plan to perform in terms of their mandate to maintain roads in the Eastern Cape. The concern is whether the Department of Roads and Public Works will be in a position to make payment on these claims at all and whether they will have the capacity to handle the work in terms of the conditions set out.
This is clearly a symptom of a government that has lost touch with its people and is failing to deliver services.
For further information, please contact Vicky Knoetze, MPL on 076 070 5712.