Judge grants leave to appeal on roads saga

The Grahamstown High Court has granted the Eastern Cape roads and public works department leave to appeal a far-reaching judgment allowing farmers to fix their own damaged dirt roads and then bill the government.

The high court in March ordered the department to immediately begin implementing plans to repair and maintain its extensive and largely dysfunctional rural road network.

Grahamstown High Court has granted the Eastern Cape roads and public works department leave to appeal a far-reaching judgment allowing farmers to fix their own damaged dirt roads and then bill the government.

Significantly, the judgment set out strict conditions under which farmers can themselves arrange to have damaged gravel roads repaired and then bill the government for the work done.

Agri EC last year brought the application in which they successfully sought to compel the department to take action and repair and maintain damaged rural roads which, they said, were having a devastating effect on agricultural and rural economies.

The department appealed the far-reaching order, indicating it believed it would have the effect of allowing farmers to access a significant portion of the department’s budget by bypassing normal procurement procedures.

But Judge Judith Roberson said she had deliberately built in enough safeguards to avoid this happening.

Roberson has now granted the department leave to appeal her judgment to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The department estimates that of its 77336km of public roads, 60000km are rural roads.

Some 37000km had been identified for re-gravelling at a cost of R500000 per kilometre and not simply routine maintenance.

However, Agri EC said it had obtained quotes for less than half that, at only R200000/km.

Roberson in March ordered the department to finalise all integrated routine maintenance contracts for rural roads by October.

She ordered that it also provide proper in-house repair and maintenance services or finalise service-level agreements with either municipalities or contractors within six months.

She gave them till the end of June to provide full details of roads to be resealed and rehabilitated, and to commence with such work within six months.

The conditions under which farmers can perform work on roads they use for farming activities and then bill the government were stringent and included that the farmer first notify the department and give it 30 days to inspect the road in question.

If it did not do so, the farmer could then obtain two independent quotes from civil contractors and proceed with the work.

If there was any dispute over the need for repair work, the decision should be referred to the chair of the Civil Engineers’ Association for the district in question.

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