PLEASE REMOVE THE NUMBER PLATE AND OBSCURE THE PATIENT'S FACE. Claudine says she does not want to talk to us or be identified in any way (not even where she lives) Claudine Senekal/The Ladysmith Herald A severely dehydrated patient is placed on the "bin" of the emergency response vehicle after medical personnel were called out to her Northern KZN home. She had to wait more than four hours before an ambulance was made available.

Durban - Auto workshops - tasked with repairing the province’s ambulances – are sitting with mounting debts because they have not been paid for their services.

The Daily News last week reported that northern KwaZuluNatal Emergency Medical Services (EMS) paramedics had resorted to transporting patients to the hospital in their emergency response bakkies. In some areas, such as Estcourt, only one ambulance out of 13 was fit to be on the road.

The KZN Department of Health blamed Transit Solutions, the company that had won the tender for the maintenance and repair of all government vehicles nationally.

This company took over the contract from April 1.

The department said last week Transit was struggling because it used auto repairers far from the ambulance depots. Processing of quotations for repairs was another problem.

But these explanations mean little to the “merchants” – auto-repair workshops – subcontracted to Transit. They say outstanding payments could put them out of business.

One of the subcontractors, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing business from the department, said he was still owed R100 000 for some work he had done on emergency vehicles in the past two months. “I did work on them without payment and released the vehicles because I couldn’t have that (transporting people on bakkies) on my conscience.

“It has been an absolute nightmare. We are a small business. This kind of thing affects our cash flow. It could put us out of business.”

He said they did routine maintenance as well as repairs.

The subcontractor explained they had to pay their creditors and suppliers within 30 days, and the delay in their payment affected this. “It is holding up the process. We are afraid to rock the boat because we don’t want to lose the contract. So we have to wait.”

Another subcontractor – based in southern KZN – said his business was receiving partial payments from Transit but debt was meanwhile mounting. “For that reason, it’s difficult to say how much we’re owed – it changes daily.”

A third subcontractor, south of Durban, said smaller workshops were often passed up in favour of larger agents. “This affects us badly because we easily lose between R40 000 and R60 000 a month.

“We can help alleviate the backlogs, and keep our businesses going, but they don’t want us.”

Transit Solutions acknowledged the delays in payment. “We are aware of some outstanding claims which are being attended to as a matter of urgency. Merchants with outstanding claims should take the matter up with the merchant administration structure where they will be attended to and cleared per agreed timeframes.”

Responding to questions from the Daily News, Transit said it was handling the repairs and maintenance of more than 5 000 vehicles nationally. Since April 1 it had processed more than 8 500 job cards for Health Department vehicles.

“We are currently clearing (for roadworthiness) the 342 EMS vehicles in KZN which the department has raised as a priority, with daily updates given to EMS KZN.”

There are 548 ambulances in KZN. Transit said if a merchant provided a quote in excess of a deparment threshold, clearance had to be sought for state officials before work could be done.

While there were backlogs, payments were being made to merchants daily. “The administration process from the time a merchant has completed work and submitted an invoice to the time it is paid, is approximately four working days, provided the merchant has logged all the required information.”

Regarding merchants being overlooked in favour of larger workshops, Transit said only used registered merchants.

“Any merchant who wants to register with Standard Bank Fleet Management (Transit’s contractor which attends to all the EMS vehicles) is welcome to do so.

“In fact, we have placed advertisements in the local press, encouraging more merchants to register.

“The use of a specific merchant for a particular job is done in terms of location in relation to the vehicle and our internal work distribution framework.”

Daily News