City’s speed-fine debacle

2015-10-15 06:00

A PRIVATE company, TMT Services and Supplies (Pty) Ltd, has been accused of using “blackmail-type” tactics to get Pietermaritzburg residents to pay their speeding fines.

The company provides cameras to the Msunduzi Municipality that are used to trap speeding cars around the city. Recently, a businessman ran into problems when the licensing bureau ­refused to renew his vehicle licences, and instead handed his employee a list of ­allegedly unpaid fines.

Another method used to try to ­persuade people to pay fines for alleged speeding offences is to repeatedly send SMS messages and/or no-reply e-mails, advising the alleged speedster to pay his or her fines on the website ­www.paymyfines.co.za However, motorists are not being served with summonses and are ­therefore not in a position to dispute the fines in court.

Some motorists have told The ­Witness that they registered on the website and paid fines “to avoid hassles”.

One motorist, who would not be named, said she eventually paid the fine online after many SMSes and scores of e-mails, as she believed she would be ­taken to court as the e-mails had said. Summonses can only be issued by the clerk of the court and can only be served by a certified peace officer (who is obliged to produce his or her certificate if requested to do so when serving a ­summons). This is not happening ­because there are no regulations in place for a private company to be involved in the process.

Well-placed legal sources in the ­Justice Department, who spoke on ­condition of anonymity, described the situation as a “mess”.

They confirmed that the methods ­being used by TMT to send out notices of infringements are not governed by ­existing regulations.

Under the current arrangement, there is no obligation on motorists to pay speeding fines, unless they receive a summons.

While TMT maintains it is allowed to send infringement notices via post in terms of Section 341 of the Criminal ­Procedure Act, legal sources insist there are no regulations in place that allow these notices to be sent by post.

The Witness was told a Section 341 notice is known as a “spot fine”, meaning notices issued by traffic warders in ­respect of minor offences like parking, which are handed to the offender or placed on the windscreen.

As a private company, TMT does not have law enforcement powers, but has been appointed as an “agent” of ­Msunduzi Municipality.

TMT told The Witness that it does not “operate” the speed cameras, which have to be manned by a traffic officer employed by the municipality.

The company said it is the service provider for “traffic management contravention hardware and systems at the municipality, which includes the enforcement of speed limits by camera”.

Msunduzi is only one of several ­municipalities around the country which have contracted TMT to perform this function. The company denied that it gets a share of the profits from fines that are paid.

“TMT gets a set fee from Msunduzi Municipality in accordance with TMT’s contract with the municipality,” the company said.

TMT added that it was the ­prerogative of Msunduzi to disclose the “confidential” information regarding the terms of the contract.

The company added that it was ­unaware of people being turned away when trying to renew their vehicle ­licences, saying licence renewals were a “matter for the municipality”.

TMT added that regulations 27 and 59 of the National Road Traffic Regulations 2000 allowed a municipality to refuse to renew licences. But when The Witness checked, it discovered that Regulation 27 refers only to the “licence mark and licence number system”, and Regulation 59 allows a registering authority to refuse to issue a disc only if a warrant of arrest has been authorised.

Msunduzi Municipality was sent a list of questions concerning its relationship with TMT, but responded merely by e-mailing the same replies as TMT.

ACCORDING TO TMT’S INTERNET ­PROFILE, 56,8% OF THE COMPANY WAS BOUGHT IN 2010 BY KAPSCH ­TRAFFICCOM, THE SAME COMPANY WHICH PARTNERED WITH THE SOUTH ­AFRICAN NATIONAL ROADS AGENCY ­LIMITED (SANRAL) TO ROLL OUT E-TOLLS IN GAUTENG.

A Pietermaritzburg businessman, who asked not to be named for fear of being victimised, told The Witness he was taken aback last month when the employee he sent to renew three of his motor vehicle licences was turned away by the ­licensing bureau.

“The cashier refused to accept payment for or issue the licences until all outstanding fines were paid, and handed my employee a list of [alleged] fines dating back to 2012, totalling close to R12 000,” he said.

“I didn’t know about any of these fines … I did pay one fine some time ago after I registered on the website [www.paymyfines.co.za], but I have a number of vehicles registered to me and my company which drive around Pietermaritzburg and ­Johannesburg,” he said.

The man said he was never served with a summons in ­connection with any of the alleged fines and could therefore not ­defend himself.

After getting legal advice, he went to the licensing bureau and challenged the cashier about the ­legality of refusing to issue his car licences due to outstanding traffic fines he knew nothing about.

“After checking on the system, the lady issued my three licence discs to me,” he said.

He added that he was informed there is a two-year “cut-off date” in which prosecutions must be ­instituted for speeding offences.

This was confirmed by the KZN director of public prosecutions Sophy Moipone Noko, via her spokesperson Natasha Ramkisson-Kara.

Noko said in terms of her ­directive, matters brought after two years were not prosecuted “for ­fairness’s sake”, unless in ­exceptional cases such as when there was reason to believe that an offender had deliberately evaded service of a summons. — WR

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