East London - The Eastern Cape Transport Department has officially taken over the troubled provincial scholar transport programme, which has been dogged by claims of mismanagement and fraud.
Transport MEC Thandiswa Marawu said the new financial year marked the beginning of the migration process of the scholar transport programme from the Department of Education to the Department of Transport.
"Provincial cabinet has mandated us to ensure that with the R206-million budget, we prioritise the poorest of the poor, with particular focus on pupils from farm and rural schools," said Marawu, addressing the media at a briefing held in King Williamstown on Tuesday.
Thousands of Eastern Cape school pupils have since the beginning of 2011 had to walk to school after the Education Department suspended the scholar transport programme due to financial constraints.
Since the beginning of the year, 173 scholar transport service providers have been prosecuted for a number of offences, including using unlicensed drivers and vehicles, and overloading.
Marawu said the department had investigated the transport scheme carefully and would make sure that pupil safety would be the new service provider's top priority.
"The service provider will also have to ensure that vehicles are assigned to routes and that pupils are transported as per the programme's needs," said Marawu.
She said payments to the provider would only be made once the department's admin processing centre was presented confirmation by school principals that pupils had been transported.
Marawu added that the scholar transport programme would be in operation by the beginning of the new school term next week.
She stressed, however, that only registered and approved pupils would be transported to and from their schools.
Thembelihle Malahle, 14, of Nyozi location outside East London said he was forced to walk for two hours every day to get to school and back.
"I'm happy that the programme has been reintroduced. We had to walk long distances and arrived late for school every day," said Malahle.
Marawu said that on Monday June 18, she will personally lead traffic officers in an operation to make sure that operators comply with the legal requirements for transporting pupils.