MPUMALANGA MEC for public works, roads and transport Clifford Mkasi has tabled his department's R3330billion budget for the 2010/11 financial year.

Mkasi tabled the budget last Thursday at the provincial legislature in Nelspruit. Earlier this week, he invited the media and gave them an opportunity to interact with his speech that covered six programmes.

According to Mkasi, each of the six programmes had their own specific budgets as follows: administration is allocated R392million; public works - R530million; roads infrastructure - R1243billion; public and freight transport - R859million; traffic management - R259million; while the community-based programmes would receive R48million.

When he tabled his speech last week, Mkasi began by saying that it gave him great pleasure to present this year's budget under one department.

He pointed out that last year he presented two policy and budget speeches - one for the former department of public works and the other for the former department of roads and transport.

The two departments have since merged to form one department that is now known as the department of public works, roads and transport.

Mkasi announced that the merger process had been successfully completed with insignificant challenges and that the new department was firmly in place.

"We will leverage the combined resources of the new department to elevate service delivery to new heights, focusing on the five priorities of the ruling party and creating a better life for all," Mkasi said.

He said the department managed to collect R307million of its own revenue and therefore exceeded the target of R304million by R3million during the 2009/2010 financial year.

Mkasi said the department was therefore projecting to collect R347million in revenue during the current financial year. He explained that in the past financial year, the department had undertaken to roll out transversal financial systems to eight cost centres to improve the payment of suppliers.

He was pleased to announce that the department had exceeded its target and rolled out the system to 10 other cost centres.

"This initiative has assisted the department to spend its budget according to cash flow projections submitted to treasury and the beginning of the financial year," said Mkasi

He also pointed out that the department was fully committed to promoting employee wellness programmes and seeks to reach the entire workforce through specific targeted programmes.

One major development that Mkasi mentioned was the announcement that the building of two schools that were relocated to make way for the building of Mbombela Stadium were complete.

Mkasi said Cyril Clarke Secondary School and John Mdluli Primary School were ready to be handed over to the provincial basic education department but that there was still the challenge of a "water solution" which he believed would be sorted out very soon.

Mkasi explained that the department had "started a programme of eradicating mud schools and unsustainable structures at schools. The contractors of 20 schools had already been appointed," he said.

The department will also upgrade four special schools in the province: Pelonolo, Mantjedi, Masianake and Ethokomala.

The department had been requested to renovate 80 schools and had managed to complete 32 of those after the rest were deemed to be severely damaged and needed to be demolished and reconstructed.

Under health infrastructure projects, the department had managed to complete 10 out of 26 health projects in the 2009/10 financial year, including the construction of a paediatric ward at Witbank Hospital. The department is continuing with the upgrading and construction of hospital facilities at nine hospitals and the average progress is at 75percent.

Four community health centres would be constructed and renovations would be completed on four hospital mortuaries during the current financial year. The department will also construct a 40-bed MDR-TB ward at Bongani Hospital in Middelburg through donations from Global Funding.

"The department has also completed the construction of the provincial disaster management centre on behalf of the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs in the past financial year," said Mkasi.

He said the department was also continuing with the construction of the provincial archives building on behalf of the department of culture, sports and recreation.

On roads infrastructure, Mkasi pointed out that in the previous financial year, a total of R1073billion was spent on rebuilding the provincial road network, while R1243billion had been budgeted for the construction and maintenance of roads during the current financial year.

Mkasi said R14million had been set aside for the design and construction of the Goromani Bridge over the Sabie River in the Ehlanzeni region as well as the Bethal traffic control centre in the Nkangala region.

"Maintenance forms part of our road network management. The overall maintenance budget for the current financial year increased by 34percent from R269million to R408million," said Mkasi.

He commended his department for completing the P166/1 road situated in Nelspruit. The road will relieve traffic on the N4 route.

"The final completion date for this road was set for May 29 2009. I am happy to announce that the P166/1 road is now complete and is in use," said Mkasi

He also spoke proudly about a project called "Siyatentela Road Maintenance Programme", which targeted females who head households. The project targets 2000 women per financial year.

"We have exceeded that target in the previous financial year by creating 2026 jobs for women-headed households. In this financial year, the department will continue with this poverty alleviation initiative and appoint an additional 2000 women to the programme. As a result, the overall budget for Siyatentela will be increased from R20million to R40million during the current financial year," Mkasi added.

The department had set aside a budget of R163million for routine road maintenance and R173million for preventative road maintenance. The other items making up the maintenance budget include R23million for re-gravelling and R7million for minor bridge repairs.

Under public transport and freight, Mkasi announced that the scrapping allowance on the Taxi Recapitalisation Programme would be increased from R50000 to R54300. He said there would be an annual increase of this allowance in line with the Consumer Price Index.

In the previous financial year on August 1 2009, scholar transport management was officially transferred from the department of basic education to the department of public works, roads and transport.

Mkasi stated that in the implementation of this function, the department would subject all vehicles that ferry learners to roadworthy tests before they were allowed on the road. He further stated that plans were also under way to strengthen the monitoring of all subsidised routes to ensure that the intended beneficiaries and the numbers provided by the service providers were indeed accurate.

"The department is currently finalising the verification of routes and very soon tenders will be advertised for the appointment of scholar transport service providers.

"A budget of R354million had been set aside to establish and manage the transportation of learners. This programme would be augmented by the donation of six thousand bicycles to learners who walk long distances to school," said Mkasi.

On traffic management, Mkasi said the department had continued to increase visibility of traffic officers on the roads.

"We have since acquired 28 patrol vehicles, of which six are unmarked, in our effort to increase law enforcement visibility on provincial routes. We plan to purchase an additional 20 patrol vehicles and six motorbikes during the current financial year," said Mkasi.

Mkasi also commended private companies that took part in the department's road safety campaigns in the previous financial year.

Some of the companies donated vehicles, while others donated junior training traffic centres (JTTC) in some schools in the province.

The JTTC programme is aimed at increasing road safety education in schools. Other companies donated 12 law enforcement vehicles and are currently sponsoring the salaries of 54 traffic law officers for a period of three years.

Mkasi said that during the new financial year they would focus on overloading, which causes considerable damage to the provincial road network.

"The premature deterioration of infrastructure inevitably compromises road safety and adds to the high fatality rate on provincial roads. Furthermore, overloaded heavy vehicles also decrease the life span of the road infrastructure with added costs for maintenance and rehabilitation of pavements," said Mkasi.

On the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), Mkasi said that during the previous financial year Mpumalanga had created a total of 32943 job opportunities, contributing towards the Presidential December 2009 target and exceeding the annual target of 28198 by the third quarter.

Mkasi made a commitment that during the new financial year his department would create 32451 jobs. He also stated that the department had empowered 1000 youths who had since been trained as artisans on community house building projects. Another 50 young people had been trained on air-conditioning and refrigeration maintenance and repairing.

"I stand here, proud to announce that 1050 National Youth Services (NYS) beneficiaries have been certified competent by both the Seta and Merseta. As part of the exit strategy, the department would absorb at least 10percent of these graduates, while others would receive further training and support as young entrepreneurs through the formation of cooperatives.

A total of 550 new intakes would be enrolled into the NYS programme during the 2010/11 financial year.