Minister Carlisle Shuts Down Testing Station that Roadworthied Rheenendal Bus
Media Statement by Robin Carlisle, Minister of Transport and Public Works
I am this morning personally shutting down TJ Motor Vehicle Testing Station, which tested and certified a Tata bus, CAW 37415, the same bus involved in the Rheenendal bus crash, as roadworthy on 14 April 2011.
We will today confiscate all TJ's records for our ongoing investigation.
On the same day as the crash, which killed 14 children and their driver when their bus plunged into the Kasatdrift River near Knysna on 24 August, I ordered an investigation into the roadworthy test of 14 April 2011 and the testing station where it took place.
Minister's General Comments
Vehicle testing stations are central to the chain of compliance that should ensure that all vehicles on our roads are safe. If vehicle testing stations issue fraudulent roadworthy certificates then that chain of safety snaps - too often only to be found out when there is a terrible crash that kills more innocents.
Therefore, when we do uncover malpractice we must deal with it as harshly as possible. This the Ministry of Transport and Public Works in the Western Cape will do and we hope the Criminal Justice System will support us. The slaughter of innocents on our roads must be stopped.
Today, as we release our findings, I am in possession of two affidavits from members of the Departmental Investigation Team evidencing to alleged criminal activity by Eugene Labuschagne in his capacity as proprietor and examiner of vehicles at TJ.
This represents non-compliance with the National Road Traffic Act, 1996, and the National Road Traffic Regulations of 2000.
Chrisfred Naude, an inspector with the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works' Compliance Monitoring Unit and Head of the Investigation Team, has alleged that Labuschagne tested and certified the bus in question as roadworthy whilst it was not in a roadworthy condition.
Last night, Naude opened a case of corruption against Labuschagne at the George Police Station on behalf of the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works. The case number is George CAS313/9/2011 and the docket has been transferred to the Commercial Crimes Unit.
These are some, but by no means all, of the defects of the bus identified by our team:
a) Excessive play on gear lever, making it difficult for gear selection.
Only on his fifth attempt was a team member able to select the first or reverse gears: "I found very excessive gear lever play, especially in the gear lever gate; the gear lever mounting bracket and mechanism was also tilting excessively backwards and forwards." Upon removal of the engine cover, he noticed that the bracket was "loose with one bolt missing and the second was unscrewed up to the point that it was fouling the steering pump. The other two were loose, resulting in the gear lever bracket tilting backwards and forwards. I am of the opinion that it is highly impossible for the gear lever to deteriorate to such an extent within 133 days," he says, referring to the number of days from the time of the alleged roadworthy, 14 April 2011, to the day of the crash, 24 August.
b) Braking system.
Tata buses are apparently not fitted with automatic slack adjusters. It should be noted that this is not in contravention of the South African Bureau of Standards. The brake adjustment interval will therefore vary from driver to driver and operation to operation. In the case of CAW 37415, the slack had probably not been adjusted for some time before the crash.
c) Right rear brake booster and booster bracket bent.
Investigation team: "Right rear booster bracket bent and booster push rod pin wearing into the booster body. No impact marks detected on either booster or bracket."
d) Vehicle load sensing valve bypassed.
During the inspection of the cross members for cracks it was established that the load sensing valve was bypassed and pivot control was seized and not connected to the axle and that the connecting rod was also missing. Further investigation under a laboratory condition will beyond doubt confirm that it has been disconnected for over 133 days.
e) Bus body cross members cracked.
This should have been picked up in the roadworthy test of 14 April 2011.
In addition, Departmental Investigation Team Head Naude said when asked who brought the bus in for the alleged roadworthy test on 14 April 2011, Labuschagne and his cashier, Ms Erasmus, repeatedly changed their stories.
"Mr Labuschagne was questioned as to who presented the vehicle for the test, to which he answered that it was Mr Singh [bus owner] who presented the vehicle. Ms Erasmus, the cashier, was also questioned as to who presented the vehicle, to which she answered Mr Singh."
"During our visit to the station, Mr Singh was also present at the station. Mr Singh was then also questioned as to who presented the vehicle for the test, to which he answered that he cannot recall, as it could have been any of his employees. When the application and the signature on the application were shown to Mr Singh, he denied that it was his handwriting and that he signed the application. Mr Labuschagne and Ms Erasmus were then confronted again, when they changed their stories, saying they cannot remember who the person was who presented the vehicle."
Minister Carlisle's suspension letter concludes as follows:
As such I have decided, in the interests of road safety, to suspend the registration of your testing station in terms of regulation 136 (3) of the National Road Traffic Regulations, 2000, for a period of 30 days pending a final decision on whether to make the suspension a lengthy one or whether to cancel your registration.
You are hereby given 14 days from the date of this letter to make representation in writing indicating why I should not suspend TJ Motor Vehicle Testing Station's registration for a lengthier time period or cancel its registration.
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