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Monday May 07, 2012

Red tape puts a stop to Joburg's pothole-fixing drive

The highly successful Dial Direct and Leadsa free pothole service - which has successfully repaired more than 30 000 holes across the city - will grind to a halt on June 1. This is because the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA) was told to put the project out on public tender.

After waiting for months for the tender to be made public, the insurance company has taken the decision to cease operations from the end of the month.

Dial Direct senior executive Bradley du Chenne said although there was no doubt that public/ private partnerships had an increasingly vital role to play in SA, these partnerships were not as clear cut as they seemed.

"We learnt this the hard way when our Pothole Brigade initiative, which cost the company R1 million a month to maintain, and which got entangled in red tape and tender processes that never materialised. This has forced this free initiative sadly to conclude its services," he said. "We have made the difficult decision to disband our highly successful and value-adding Pothole Brigade. This is a terrible disappointment to us as well as to the motorists of Gauteng."

Motorists using roads currently included in the brigade's scope of repair will have until the end of the month to report potholes needing to be fixed.

"Gauteng road users continue to be plagued by an ever escalating number of potholes. However, our efforts have been continually thwarted, and at the end of the day, the brigade cannot be sustained without the buy-in and support of the authorities," said Du Chenne.

The brigade piloted the project with the JRA, which ended last October, despite repeated calls to reinstate it.

More than 30 000 potholes were filled for free by Dial Direct in Joburg alone before the project came to a halt after some city service providers complained that the initiative did not comply with the stipulations of the Municipal Financial Management Act. As such, the JRA had to formalise procedures and framework structures, and needed to incorporate the repair of potholes into a tender process.

While waiting for confirmation on the future of the potholefilling campaign with the JRA, the brigade continued to work with the Gauteng Department of Roads and Transport on outlying main roads in Joburg and Pretoria. It also worked with the Ekurhuleni municipality.

"Although these campaigns have been a marked success, the overwhelming majority of requests - 80 percent - came from motorists travelling on Jra-serviced roads inside the N14. With our efforts to deliver our potholefilling service where it's mostneeded being thwarted by red tape, we had to carefully weigh up the true costs of this initiative, not only financially but to our brand as well," said Du Chenne.

"We would like to take this opportunity to thank Trafficare and Leadsa for partnering with us. We certainly would have preferred the alternative to continue delivering pothole-filling services in partnership with municipalities in areas where these services are most needed."

Leadsa's Terry Volkwyn said: "We are also disappointed that Dial Direct was forced to close down the Pothole Brigade. When we endorsed it at Leadsa, we wanted to stand up, do the right thing and make a difference. There is little doubt that we did.

"However, it's clear that local authorities do not appreciate the response to the government's repeated calls for public/private partnerships.

"Red tape seems to be a common excuse. The Pothole Brigade saved the provincial government and municipalities millions of rand. Now ratepayers will again be forced to foot the bill. Dial Direct must be lauded for trying to make a difference, and the nonco-operation from authorities is a sad reflection on how this excellent initiative was undermined.

"We have to ask why local authorities would want to pay for filling potholes while the private sector is willing to do it for nothing," she added.

JRA spokesman Thulani Makhubela said: "The tender documents are being prepared, and may already have been sent out. The city deliberated extensively about this and it was decided it had to be an open and transparent process."

The Star


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