Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s much awaited “big taxi industry announcement” on COVID-19 Relief Fund may take longer than initially thought.
Last month Mbalula made a bold commitment to the taxi industry – committing his department to make funds available for taxis to mitigate for the financial loss taxi owners have incurred since the country went into lockdown on 27 March. Taxis have been operating at 70 percent passenger carrying capacity in line with lockdown regulations on all public transport under level 5 and and 4. They are also to remain at 70 percent carrying capacity on level 3 stage of the lockdown. The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and National Taxi Alliance (NTA) represent the taxi industry in the negotiations with government.
Sources within both government and taxi sectors with intimate knowledge to the behind the scenes negotiations between taxi industry leaders and the department said that, contrary to what Mbalula had been saying for almost a month about the imminent announcement on the relief funds – government has told the Department if Transport that it has no emergency budget for the taxi industry – for now. The announcement on the taxi industry was most likely to be made only after the mid-term budget speech by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni later towards the end of June, according to a senior taxi industry leader. The leader also said the amount that taxi leaders have asked for as possible relief packages for individual taxi owners had been outrightly rejected by Treasury officials.
“A lot of taxi operators are going to be disappointed because the team from Minister Mbalula’s department has been told that there is no budget for the figure we as the industry have put on the table for compensation on COVID-19 lockdown. The relief package that Mbalula will announce will be way too less to what we have initially asked for. Now people will finally see that as that taxi industry we are not taken seriously,” said the taxi leader who leads the taxi industry negotiating team with the Department of Transport but who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing the ongoing talks with government.
“Anything less than what we have asked for will be nothing. Not even a drop in the ocean,” the taxi leader said.
According to this taxi leader, they had asked for R3.5 billion covering 21 days between 27 March and 17 April when the lockdown in the country commenced and R11 billion for the period beyond end of May. City Press has also been told that the industry had proposed a R600 and R750 relief fund compesation for each taxi owner for every vehicle for both local and long distance trips, respectively, for the 21 days covering 27 March to 17 April. An average taxi owner in South Africa owns between one to eight minibus taxis but there are many who own more than that number, according to the SA Taxi – an integrated taxi industry business company. Mbalula’s spokesperson, Ayanda Allie-Payne has failed to respond to questions sent to her and failed to return calls for two days.
A Department of Transport source working with different modes of public transport said the proposed package by the taxi industry for COVID-19 relief fund was “outrageous” because almost all the projects within government had stalled because of the financial constraints brought about by the COVID-19 epidemic.
“The taxi industry’s requests for such a lot of money sounds very ridiculous. I mean, they all know that government may not have all the money they expect to pay to so many taxi operators – some of whom own so many vehicles,” said the source.
Philip Taaibosch, President of Santaco, said that they would hold government accountable for the promise it has made for a relief fund to the industry. He refused to comment on the alleged refusal by government to accept the taxi industry’s initial R3.5 billion tabled COVID-19 Relief Fund proposed budget.
“I would not want to preempt anything at the moment. We are still waiting for government to make a declaration on the COVID-19 relief fund. The Minister has accepted that the taxi industry should get a relief fund and we are holding him on his promise,” said Taaibosch.
Alpheus Mlalazi, general secretary of the NTA said they were waiting for a response from government and would not want to speculate on rumours. Mlalazi is the chief negotiator for the organization on the COVID-19 taxi industry relief fund with government. He said they hoped that government would make good on its promise to the taxi industry on a relief fund package. Mlalazi said it was imperative for both government and the taxi industy to work together during these difficult times because the COVID-19 pandemic, if not well contained, would decimate the entire nation.
“We hope that government will come out and make an announcement on how the taxi industry will be compensated and hope they have enough time to do that. We all need to know that this pandemic never made an appointment when it came, so we cannot allow ourselves to be defeated by this virus and I urge we need to work together,” said Mlalazi.