Government, Toyota failed to protect taxi commuters: Mkhwebane
The public protector said on Wednesday that the department of transport and Toyota South Africa had failed to protect taxi commuters as they did not move quickly to halt the illegal conversion of Toyota Quantum panel vans into minibus taxis.
Around 2,353 of these panel vans, which are certified to carry three passengers, had been altered to carry 16 passengers and were operating on South Africa's roads.
Delivering her report at the Public Protector's offices in Pretoria, Busiswe Mkhwebane said that despite knowing about this issue for a number of years, it was only in March 2018 that steps were taken to remove the hazardous vehicles from the roads.
"The department was warned about the practice and the existence of these vehicles in 2009 but failed to timeously ensure that all vehicles that were illegally converted and not brought in to be corrected were impounded and thus taken off the road as envisaged in section 87 of the National Land Transport Act," said Mkhwebane.
She found that Toyota South Africa was also aware of how their vehicles were being tampered with.
"Other than warning its motor vehicle dealerships through written correspondence - and in one particular instance allowing conversions under certain conditions - it does not appear to have taken any severe steps to ensure that its product is not tampered with," said Mkhwebane.
This was "despite the fact" that many accidents involving these vehicles "had been fatal", she added.
Mkhwebane further hit out at banks which, despite having financed these illegally converted taxis without having seen them, had prioritised getting their money back instead of helping to solve the problem.
"Some financial institutions never assisted the illegally converted panel van owners to be reimbursed for their deposits and payments made when the owners became aware that they had purchased illegally converted vehicles. Instead, they repossessed the vehicles and then sold them on auction to another unsuspecting buyer, and the shortfall to the bank would be recorded as a failure by the illegally converted panel van owners to pay," Mkhwebane said.
Her investigations into how these illegally converted vehicles were successfully registered on the e-Natis system further exposed the fraudulent action, with the transport department conceding that frontline staff at the licensing offices were manipulating the system.
Mkhwebane called for those implicated to be prosecuted.
She also said her investigations had found that allegations that the SA Bureau of Standards (SABS) had failed to conduct adequate quality assurance tests after being requested to do so by department of transport were substantiated.
SABS had failed to conduct the high-speed crash tests on the vehicles and had conducted tests only on a static vehicle.
Mkhwebane's report painted these panel vans as deaths traps, adding that the structural defects were caused by, among other things, the cutting of the side panels to put in windows and the anchorage of the safety belts on vehicle seats rather than the chassis to ensure that they were not ripped off during motor vehicle accidents.
She called on the director general of the department of transport and Toyota South Africa to work together to find a speedy solution to ensure the removal of all these vehicles from the roads.