Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport has launched an investigation into all 42 driving licence testing centres across the province as part of a bold new initiative to root out corruption.
It comes as criminal cases involving fraud and corruption charges against eight Mandeni traffic officers – who have since been fired – began recently in the Eshowe Magistrate’s Court.
The eight officials, including the chief inspecting officer of the Mandeni testing station, are accused of running a blatant cash-for-licence racket in which hundreds of people were given driving licences without even completing the theory or practical tests.
Kwanele Ncalane, spokesman for the Transport Department, said it was as a result of the rampant corruption at the Mandeni centre that the department had decided to institute a province-wide probe.
“We discovered that people had been given licences without doing any test,” Ncalane said. “Further investigations revealed that at least 160 driving licences were issued fraudulently and we moved to revoke those licences.
“Seventy-five of those people denied that they obtained their licences illegally and when we re-tested them, all of them failed,” he said.
Investigations into the traffic officials uncovered that people were being charged between R6 000 and R10 000 for a licence to drive.
The investigation in Mandeni began in 2010 and the centre has been closed since February 2011 – when the officials were arrested.
Ten people were initially arrested: eight were found guilty while one entered into a plea bargain with the State.
Another was acquitted.
A former driving school instructor who spoke to the Daily News on Wednesday said that there was widespread corruption at many of the province’s licence centres.
“If they want to root out corruption once and for all they need to do lifestyle audits on all the inspectors in the province, and not only look at them, but their wives and kids because that is where they hide the money,” he said. “The inspectors and the driving schools work hand in hand and they can make anything between R10 000 and R50 000 a day.
“They make their money from people who are desperate to get their licence, because either their learner’s licence is about to expire and [they] are willing to pay the bribe, or from people who need a driving licence because their job requires them to have a licence,” he said.
Ncalane said that Transport MEC Willies Mchunu was concerned by the level of corruption in the province and planned to crack down not only on corrupt officials, but driving schools too.
“This is a major concern to us, especially as we try to curb the road carnage,” he said.
“We are now conducting the audit on all our driving testing centres to see if they are functioning effectively. We want to see if there are any loopholes that make it easy for corrupt activities.”
Ncalane said there were also concerns about how many driving licences were issued by the corrupt officials before the investigation began.
“There are many more. This is definitely a concern because you have people driving on our national roads and busy freeways who shouldn’t,” he said.
Ncalane said that a decision had not yet been made on whether to re-open the Mandeni testing station.
The eight traffic officials had appeared at the Eshowe Magistrate’s Court on October 8. They are expected to appear again in May next year when the trial begins. - Daily News