There is confusion over whether the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) has suspended the renewal of professional driving permits for GD and PGD category drivers, some five months after they demanded that the department stop administering aptitude tests during renewal of permits.
Our investigations indicate that DRTSS has not been renewing permits for drivers under the two categories and has, instead, directed police traffic officers not to penalise drivers with expired permits.
Late last year, truck drivers, under Truck Drivers Association, embarked on a nationwide strike in protest against poor salaries, culminating in salary increase from K60,000 per month to K140,000 monthly.
The association’s members also wanted DRTSS to scrape off aptitude tests as a prerequisite for renewing a driver’s permit.
The demands were backed by Professional Drivers Union (PDU) and, since end November last year, heavy goods and truck drivers have not been able to get new permits, while drivers that are not affiliated to PDU claim that they are being denied a chance to drive heavy goods vehicles outside the country because they are being denied permits ostensibly because they do not go to DRTSS offices in the company of PDU officials.
“I have been going to DRTSS’ Lilongwe offices for four weeks now to renew my truck driver’s permit as it expired on February 10 this year. In all cases, I have been turned back because I was not accompanied by a Professional Drivers Union official,” said Humphrey, Mtambalika Kapwepwe a Lilongwe-based driver who drives a freightliner on piece-work basis.
However, PDU Chairperson Major Mkandawire dismissed reports that drivers that ply on foreign roads were facing problems at DRTSS offices.
“Every time a driver wants to go outside the country, we accompany him or her to DRTSS offices and they are being helped accordingly. We are always there monitoring the process and testifying to the fact that the driver is our member.
“As for non-union drivers that may be facing problems, I think there is nothing we can do about it. We are there to fight for our union members’ rights and this is the reason we charge a subsidised membership fee of K9,000,” Mkandawire said.
DRTSS spokesperson Angellina Makwecha said her Ministry of Transport and Public Works counterpart Andrew Nthiko was better placed to comment on the issue as he has been shedding light on such issues.
Nthiko said it was not true that the government had suspended the issuing of permits.
“What is happening is that those that drive heavy goods vehicles are being allowed to continue using their professional driving permits even when they have expired. No one is being penalised for using an expired one because traffic police officers were informed about the development.
“As for those who want to drive on the roads that are outside this country, permits are being issued because we have not signed any agreement with authorities in other countries. This is to make sure that no one is disadvantaged,” Nthiko said.
He added that, in terms of foregoing the need for heavy goods and truck drivers to undergo aptitude tests, a special office had been established at DRTSS for that purpose.
The ministry spokesperson said officers assigned to the special office were, among other things, engaging in overwriting processes, which means helping drivers to forgo the requirement for aptitude test.
He said, for the ministry to scrape off aptitude test, there was a need to change the laws.
“We submitted a draft document to the Ministry of Justice two months ago. We expected that, by the end of this month, the minister will have signed it and it will have been gazetted. But I have to follow up on that and I cannot give a timeframe. But we have initiated the processes,” he said.
However, some truck drivers that ply on foreign roads bemoaned expenses they were incurring in the course of getting permits right here in Malawi.
“For whatever reason, we are being forced to travel to Lilongwe, the capital, simply because, for whatever reason, DRTSS is serving us, truck drivers, in Lilongwe,” said a truck driver identified as Emmanuel Sande.
Truck Drivers Association spokesperson Paul Kachitsa corroborated the sentiments, saying “drivers that carry goods and dangerous substances are being served in Lilongwe”.
“And, even though they are overwriting— when it comes to the aptitude test requirement— we are being inconvenienced at the moment. Let them scrape off the need for aptitude tests altogether.
“We understand that they are in the process of doing that. We have been told that the company that installed the current software, which sets aptitude test as a requirement, is from South Africa and they need to invite its representatives to change the system. Let them not delay because we are inconvenienced at the moment,” Kachitsa said.
Driving licences are issued under three categories based on what the driver intends to carry; P (passenger carriage), G (goods carriage), and D (dangerous goods carriage). They are also featured with codes that represent the approved vehicles which one is allowed to drive.