“If you want less of something, regulate it ……..”
4 Sep 2018 - by Nick Porée
The evidence of the truth of this adage is seen in many areas in South Africa where regulations (restrictions), as bureaucratic sphincters, affect a wide range of activities such as trade, industry, mining, agriculture, employment, health-care, and now the transport of high cube containers.
Containerised cargo has a 40-year history. In 1970 the introduction of ISO containers for import and export cargoes made road transport illegal and caused the Department of Transport (DoT), in response to industry requests, to change regulations from width 2.5 to 2.6 metres; trailer length 10.0 metres to 12.0 metres and height 4.1 to 4.3 , all processed in a month, and they became the “new norm”.
Come 2004, the new international high cube ISO 12-metre boxes were being transported all over the country and were becoming the “new norm”. In 2006 a detailed motivation was submitted to DoT to permit 4.6 metres vehicle height, as the ISO “norm” had changed. This was rejected with various specious arguments. In 2011 an attempt was made to prosecute over-height vehicles which caused chaos on roads and ports. An urgent moratorium on prosecution was gazetted, which effectively recognised the reality of the new normal height and allowed the industry to transport high cubes all over the region.
Seven years later (2019) we are faced with another attempt at reverting to the 1987 “norm”, despite the millions of containers that have been moved safely and efficiently all over southern Africa over the period. If the moratorium is repealed the result will be a repeat of the chaos in 2011. The issue was discussed at length in the Road Freight Strategy, which was approved by Cabinet in 2017, and published with a foreword from the present Minister of Transport, which concludes as follows:
“I would like to extend my appreciation and gratitude to the role played by the industry in ensuring that this Strategy is developed. Further to this, I would like to encourage all role players to take an active role in the full implementation of the Strategy as its success rests on the shoulders of all of us.
What the Road Freight Strategy says…….. “In the current situation, the governmental decision processes are based on the premise that the official pronouncements will result in change, whereas the reality is that the commercial world makes its own decisions, based on the policy pronouncements from the government. In the current South African situation, it is critical that the private sector decision-makers are given reason to support official policies and for that reason they must be party to the decision-making process.”
An effective communication structure will prevent some of the impractical proposals for interventions and ensure that planning is based on the realities of the commercial undertakings. The range of negative perceptions is fuelled by stalled, recently proposed legislation, issues such as cross-border permit charges, perceived failures to manage parastatals, and the continual realities of bribery and corruption.
The current processes of limiting consultation and co-ordination to departments, provinces, parastatals, agencies and quasi-official structures insulates the entire process from the commercial and industrial sectors which are the recipients and payers for all the results of the governmental decision-making. It further fosters litigation. Recommendations for a consultative structure were made in the NFLS 2016.
With about twelve weeks to deadline, if the imminent high cube container impasse is not resolved the following will happen:
If, on the other hand, the new norm height of 4.6 metres is gazetted, the effect will be a huge avoidance of wasted time, effort, cost and absolutely ZERO effect on any aspect of the current road freight transport operations which are efficiently performed all over the country. And there will be no need to warn the State President to stop talking of “The Gateway to Africa”.
Nick Porée is an independent transport economic and policy consultant with a 35-year history of consulting on southern African freight logistics policy, including NTPS, NATMAP, NFLS, and RFS for RSA DOT. He designed the framework for the SADC Tripartite TTTFP programme and has completed many other projects around the region. He was author of the first report on high cubes in 2006, and has supported the many industry efforts to resolve the issue since then.