Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport’s proposed budget cuts a blow for tourism



10-07-2020
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Lowvelder
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MBOMBELA – The Department of Public Works, Roads and Transport’s (DPWRT) proposed budget cut from R2,5 billion in the 2010/20 period to R2,1 billion in the 2020/21 period has drawn criticism from the tourism sector.

The department’s spokesperson, Cyril Dlamini, could not confirm which areas in the province would be most affected by the reduction.

“The provincial treasury is best placed to respond to issues pertaining to budget allocations,” he said when asked what the reasons behind the budget cuts were.

“The department has prepared its operational plans according to the allocated (available) budget. Various transport infrastructure projects will be implemented as outlined by the MEC during the tabling of the department’s budget vote.

“These include roads that support coal haulage and tourism,” Dlamini said.

He did, however, indicate that the cost per square metre on Mpumalanga roads would be influenced by factors such as traffic volumes, proportion of heavy vehicles and climactic conditions. This made providing cost estimates difficult without taking into account the scope of each project.

“The department will only deliver as per the allocated budget, however, emphasis will be placed on routine maintenance which includes patching of potholes, resealing and regravelling where comprehensive rehabilitation or construction might be hampered by budgetary constraints,” Dlamini said.

This latest announcement by DPWRT has been lambasted by prominent role players in the tourism sector. Lisa Sheard, the executive director of tourism at the Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism (KLCB), opined that the maintenance and upgrades of tourism routes or roads were already behind schedule.

“The effects of these budget cuts are highly detrimental to the industry. Key tourism routes, particularly those under the custodianship of the Mpumalanga DPWRT, have been neglected for years, so this budget cut adds to an already serious problem.

“As far back as August 2018, it was noted that the provincial backlog amounted to 936 kilometres; the repairs and upgrades of this amounting to some R6,6 billion,” she said.

Sheard bemoaned the state of the roads in the province, citing its importance to the local economy.

“Well-maintained transport routes are essential to the functioning of a local economy. Obviously, it would be helpful if heavy cargo such as ore was transported off-road and on rail. We can expect stunted growth anyway at this time, but the budget cut will simply lower our chances of local economic recovery,” she added.

KLCBT president, Oupa Pilane, weighed in on the debate and called for government to appoint competent contractors to repair the roads.

“One of the biggest challenges has been the appointment of unqualified and incompetent contractors as some of these roads were fixed about a year ago. Once it rained, they were in a worse state than they were before.

“We hope that government will appoint competent companies so that they do not have to budget for the same roads every second year,” he said.

Sheard shared this sentiment and called for the department to adopt a transparent tender process which would be open to scrutiny from the public.

“Unfortunately, the department is not known for being innovative, but certainly before the Covid-19 coronavirus there were infrastructural funds available from national government that could have been accessed.

“It is also an open secret that the DPWRT has made some tenderpreneurs very rich. If ever there was a time for this approach, it is now,” she concluded.

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