A three-year R51-million probe has been ordered by the National Department of Transport into irregularities surrounding the issuing of thousands of driving and learners’ licences.

A three-year R51-million probe has been ordered by the National Department of Transport into irregularities surrounding the issuing of thousands of driving and learner's licences.

The probe by 70 Special Investigating Unit members, in co-operation with the Scorpions and police, will investigate the issuing of driving and learner's licences as well as vehicle-clearance certificates throughout the country.

This probe follows a similar investigation into the Limpopo transport department, where it was found that of the 120 000 licences issued in the province since 1994, 15 000 had major inconsistencies. About 2 400 of the dubious licences have since been cancelled.

Some licences were issued with no eye examination or physical driving test being conducted. Other cases related to hundreds of licences issued to people who were not South African citizens.

It was estimated that at least 50 per cent of drivers in the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal had obtained their licences fraudulently. About 15 per cent of Gauteng, Western Cape and Free State licences were believed to be fraudulent.

The head of the special unit, Willie Hofmeyr, said the probe would start later this year and, funded by the national transport department, would go back as far as necessary to ensure all problems were ironed out.

"If this means that thousands of licences have to be confiscated, then so be it," Hofmeyr said. "We are hoping that the national investigation will allow action to be taken against not only the bribe-taker, but also the briber, as this is a serious problem which needs to be pursued vigorously."