Plans to introduce the amended Aarto Act in South Africa in July 2021 would be reckless, as a forensic investigation has been launched into the activities of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA), says Howard Dembovsky, chair of Justice Project South Africa (JPSA).
On Friday (5 February), the agency announced the suspension of its acting chief executive and other unnamed senior employees.
“The suspensions are being said by the RTIA to have arisen from the findings of the auditor-general regarding the RTIA’s 2019/20 audit, coupled with whistle-blower reports of serious maladministration involving these individuals,” Dembovsky said.
He said that the fact that the maladministration was uncovered by the auditor-general strongly suggests that it involves finances.
“This does not bode well for a state-owned enterprise that the public will soon have to trust to handle billions of rands in traffic fine revenue,” he said.
Profit over safety
Dembovsky also criticised the Aarto Amendment Act and the draft Aarto regulations for ‘unashamedly favouring profit over road safety’.
He said the changes envisage a vast flood of revenue which, in South Africa, has proven to be an open invitation for corruption in SOEs.
“Fines have been tripled, fees have been doubled, infringement schedules have been modified to maximise fine revenue from speeding especially, and a preposterous ‘infringement penalty levy’ has been incorporated into the new regulations,” he said.
Dembovsky said that the infringement penalty levy, which charges R100 per infringement notice, will, on its own, generate R1 billion per ten million fines issued, excluding the value of the fines themselves and the fees the RTIA may add to them.
It is conservatively estimated that between 15 and 20 million fines a year will be issued countrywide once Aarto is fully implemented, he said.
“The Amendment Act and draft regulations perpetuate the stench of road safety as a cash cow, and this latest development gives credence to criticism that the Department of Transport has not held the RTIA at arms’ length in law-making,” Dembovsky said.
“In fact, the RTIA, which is the very body which the Aarto Act governs, was allowed to receive public submissions on the Regulations, represents an extraordinary conflict of interest!”
The Aarto’s planned national implementation date is 1 July this year, and Dembovsky said that a forensic investigation into what is clearly being regarded as serious malfeasance could likely not be completed with just 145 days to go before that date.
“To forge ahead with Aarto’s national implementation under the current circumstances would be reckless and we cannot see that the Minister of Transport has much option but to pause it yet again,” he said.
“The RTIA must be squeaky-clean if Aarto is to have the public’s buy-in, and this latest development further undermines public confidence in the agency,” Dembovsky said.