[Media Release by Justice Project South Africa]
JOHANNESBURG – The controversial AARTO Act and its associated points-demerit system is once again in the news and now SATAWU is also taking the matter to task.
Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) is astounded to see that even large and mighty organisations are being blindly ignored by the Department of Transport and the RTMC when engaging in matters that surround AARTO and road safety campaigns in general. We have been actively engaged with the RTMC in matters surrounding the inequitable and in many cases unlawful implementation of AARTO for more than 14 months now and have received nothing more than rhetoric and empty promises from them. Engagement attempts with the Department of Transport have similarly met with no joy and have been fobbed off as “just another lobby group” putting a bug up the department’s nose.
Even issues surrounding overtly unlawfully served AARTO infringement notices which we took up with the RTIA (Road Traffic Infringement Agency) have met with similar patronising, dismissive responses. When JPSA took these matters up with the RTIA, after failing to get the JMPD itself to act reasonably, responsibly and ethically, the RTIA responded to the issues as below:
• The tripling of fine values by the JMPD, but not the TMPD when fines are issued to juristic persons under the same Act.
o The Chief State Law Advisor saw nothing wrong with this even though Alta Swanepoel, one of the authors of the Act apparently did, according to a Sake 24 article.
o Director Gerneke of the JMPD was gleeful when this “ruling” as he called it came back.
• The service of well over 1.5 million infringement notices starting with the digits 02-4024 (if the JMPD’s reported 430,000 volume of fines a month is true) by the JMPD via standard surface mail, where the Act requires registered mail to be used.
o The RTIA said it had prevailed on the issuing authority (the JMPD) to withdraw these infringement notices.
o The JMPD has responded by not doing so but instead escalating the fine values for those not paid within the 32 day “discount period” to 100% of their values.
o In the case of private individuals this can be up to R1,500.
o In the case of juristic persons this can be up to R4,500 for a single infringement notice.
o To this day motorists are still receiving these unlawfully posted infringement notices for infringements that occurred between May and August 2010.
o Additionally, motorists are being issued with duplicate notices in person wherever possible in an apparent attempt to “legalise” these notices.
• The issue of scores of garbled infringement notices starting with the digits 02-4099 where field mappings became confused when the RTMC AARTO Unit took over the issue of fines from the JMPD in August 2010.
o The response was that they knew about the problem and were addressing it.
o Since then (August 16 2010), no response or explanation has been forthcoming.
o Almost inconceivably, the JMPD themselves are handing out pieces of paper in their fine offices urging people to contact JPSA or Syntell about these notices.
In addition to these responses, the RTIA responded: “Kindly take note that we are not in a position to unilaterally withdraw all the AARTO 03 notices issued by the JMPD in this regard. We are comfortable that the AARTO provides a mechanism to challenge the issuing of any notices that were allegedly issued incorrectly and would advise that the infringers follow the processes provided by means of representations. Do take note that through engagements with the other stakeholders, the Corporation and RTIA has made a strong recommendation to the Issuing Authority to cancel invalid notices”, thus effectively making the problem of dealing with these matters that of those members of the public at large who are aware of the fact that they were issued/served incorrectly/unlawfully!
All other recipients are therefore left to pay unlawfully issued infringement notices in their fear of being accosted by the JMPD in their numerous and frequent intimidatory fine-checking roadblocks which similarly have nothing to do with road safety. Even though AARTO completely disallows arrest for an unpaid AARTO fine, old habits die hard and almost every person who has contacted JPSA about their unlawfully received fines has expressed the concern of being detained and forced to pay their fines in these roadblocks.
The RTIA is supposed to have jurisdiction and authority over every issuing authority involved in the AARTO process and whilst there are only two at this stage, it chooses to “strongly recommend” that the JMPD comply with the Act instead of telling it to do so. This also bears testimony to the fact that they have no authority at all in the eyes of the JMPD or indeed themselves and they are not prepared to act in an honest, lawful and honourable manner. JPSA therefore has no choice but to take the matters to court.
On Sunday 19 September 2010 the RTMC announced through the Sunday Times and City Press newspapers that a tender to train 10,000 Traffic Officers in AARTO processes had been released, with a closing date of 11 October 2010. As if the RTMC does not make enough money already, the cost of these tender documents is R500 a shot.
But even if the contract were awarded by the end of October 2010, one has to ask how all of the other traffic officers around the country are planned to be trained by the 1 April 2011 full implementation date – with the points demerit system in place which has actually been announced by the Minister of Transport on several occasions. It is ludicrous that they could possibly be competently trained in AARTO in the space of 5 months when the RTMC has failed to educate the current participants in Johannesburg and Pretoria to the extent where they remotely resemble competency in the subject materials over the last two years.
Between an announcement by the Minister of Transport, Sibosiso Ndeblele seemingly making it sound like AARTO would come into effect on 1 October 2010 and the resultant demonstrations by Taxi drivers, mass confusion surrounding AARTO has once again abounded. The unfortunate thing about all this is that the Taxi drivers once again got to portray the impression that their “might in getting government to capitulate to their demands” is effective, where in fact the 1 October implementation date was never on the cards in the first place! But now that SATAWU is getting involved, there can be little doubt that very real consequences will follow.
The “rolling enforcement plan” to which the Minister was actually referring when the 1 October date was first mooted is an annual operation when the festive season approaches and very little about this plan, which has had very little impact on road deaths in past years has changed from previous years. It is arguable that if visible enforcement and regular vehicle and driver checks were to take place all year round, not just around holiday periods, this may have some impact on curbing road deaths. True education and real enforcement, instead of money-making exercises like hidden camera enforcement will also have a real impact, but seemingly this is too much for our country to ask of the powers that be and more so, their business partners.
SATAWU is 100% correct in assuming that their members will lose their licences within a single day but they will not be alone and the same fate will be suffered by a high proportion of drivers in South Africa – not because they are necessarily bad drivers but because traffic authorities regularly engage in trapping for revenue instead of law enforcement exercises which address a long list of moving violations which should be tackled. Some of these traps are even within 2km of one another. AARTO simply seeks to get a slice of the action by including the RTMC in the funds that are generated by this taxation method, where local municipalities and their so-called contractors were previously the only recipients of these billions.
Similarly, what SATAWU says about the shocking conditions of our roads is very true and this has been addressed by the Department of Transport by bringing in new business partners to toll the living daylights out of motorists through another of their business ventures – SANRAL. The Minister of Transport has even gone so far as to say that government has no obligation to maintain or even provide alternative routes. In effect, the Department of Transport is set to become one of the biggest single money spinners for government coffers in no time if all of this goes unchallenged.
The RTMC has commissioned consulting company Magna FS to conduct a number of evaluations of the AARTO system and on Tuesday 14 September 2010, a bulk email was sent out to a mailing list informing members of the public that a survey had been placed online to assess the public’s knowledge of the workings of the AARTO Act. In this email, the Act was quoted as being the Automatic (not Administrative) Adjudication of Road Traffic Offenses “law” not Act. The word “Law” has a much wider meaning than the word “Act” but this having been said, it is shocking that a communication signed of as coming from the “RTMC team” should have been so materially incorrect.
JPSA has put a link up to this survey at its informative AARTO website at www.aartofacts.co.za, which disseminates true and correct information about AARTO and how it affects individuals and companies alike. By stark contrast, neither the RTMC (www.rtmc.co.za) nor the “official AARTO website” (www.aartosa.co.za) have done similar. Any education process of the public with respect to AARTO should have been conducted a significant period of time before implementing it anywhere, but to date this has not been done and mass confusion still reigns supreme. It can only be assumed that the purpose of the survey must be to establish just how much, or more like it, little the public knows about AARTO and its processes.
Our standpoint on a points-demerit system is very well known and we truly feel that this is a very necessary thing in order to combat the abysmal road safety record that South Africa has. However, before the AARTO Act can be implemented effectively, a number of legislative changes and intensive system development has got to take place. The issue of corruption, including but not limited to the issue of drivers’ licenses under “dubious” circumstances has also got to be aggressively tackled. It will be no good imposing demerit-points and license suspensions if dishonest drivers can simply go and pay someone to issue them with a new license.
We have warned time and again that South Africa is not Canada, on who’s systems the AARTO Act is reportedly based. When one takes into consideration the competency of traffic enforcement officers in South Africa, and the hugely financially driven law enforcement methods employed by local authorities, compared to other countries where vaguely similar points-demerit systems exist, not to mention the vastly different control measures in place, only a complete fool would fail to see that a number of unique challenges and indeed problems face South Africa in implementing a system like this.
Even though the AARTO Act has been some 12 years in the making, there are still numerous very serious problems which need to be addressed before any hope can be held for the system being rolled out throughout South Africa. It is bad enough that it should have been rolled out in Johannesburg and Pretoria, where motorists are expected to pay fine values of more than twice (six times in the case of juristic persons) the fine values currently in force around the rest of the country but the complete maladministration and misapplication of the Act has further gone to compound the problem as have the completely deficient IT systems behind it. So much so that it has been reported that both the TMPD and JMPD have complained about a drop in their collection rates on these fines and it has further been reported that the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality wants out of the AARTO process.
Whilst it has been announced on several occasions that AARTO will be fully operational by the beginning of the new governmental financial year on 1 April 2011, it remains to be seen if this deadline will be met, even if it were not challenged by SATAWU and others.
The facts are that the problems facing the AARTO implementation and the legislation itself are vast and imposing the system on the entire country in its current form will have disastrous consequences. Traffic law and enforcement needs a complete overhaul if it is to be effective in curbing road fatalities and education law enforcement officials and all sectors of the public has got to be focussed on and the money-making schemes disposed of.
It must also be remembered that of the 13,709 road fatalities reported in the RTMC’s Traffic Report of September 2009 for the year 2008/9 (latest available on their website), 4,557 (33%) of these were pedestrians and there are few countries in the world where pedestrians crossing freeways is a common occurrence. It certainly rarely happens in Canada. Simply nailing allegedly errant drivers is not going to come close to addressing the problems this country faces and whilst “electronic camera” as opposed to physical law enforcement remains the preferred method of law enforcement, lives will continue to be lost on a massive scale.
National Chairman – Justice Project South Africa