On-site fining illegal

2012-10-12 00:00

THE manner in which the uMhlathuze Traffic Department is collecting camera fines at roadblocks may be illegal, according to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The DPP last week asked the Richards Bay Organised Crime Unit to investigate the matter further.

According to the police unit, a meeting has been scheduled for today to discuss the legality of the process.

The DPP is questioning the manner in which “offenders” are being treated when there is a warrant of arrest against their name.

The alleged offenders are either offered an escort to an ATM to withdraw the cash or the option of phoning a friend to bring the money to the scene. They are told they cannot leave the roadblock, although they are not formally placed under arrest.

The strong stance has seen the traffic department’s collection rate of fines rise nearly 1 000%. According to the municipality’s financial reporting for August, which is the most recent to be tabled and accepted by the council, the actual fines collected were R1 003 000, far exceeding the monthly target of R171 000. This is a marked increase from July, when then council only collected R140 000.

This is partly due to an increase in roadblocks and the appointment of Traffic Management Technologies (TMT), who supply mobile camera operations for traffic management. TMT, according to the council, does not set up “speed traps”, but are strictly used by “uniformed, qualified officers employed by the municipality”. TMT is also in a joint venture to operate the Gauteng Open Road Tolling project once it opens.

DPP spokesperson Natasha Ramkisson said their office was not aware of the actions of the traffic department and has urged people who believe they have been unfairly treated to contact their office.

“What the traffic officials are alleged to have done is not allowed. The matter has been referred to the police. If any member of the public feels they have been unfairly treated at a roadblock, they should contact our office,” she said.

At a roadblock attended by The Witness near Brackenham two weeks ago, Richards Bay uMhlathuze Municipality traffic officers were demanding on-site payment of fines by motorists who had outstanding warrants of arrests.

In September, Mtunzini resident Marlene Goodman, who runs a wedding events company, was forced to leave her daughter at a roadblock as “ransom” so that she could go and withdraw the money to pay the fine.

“I wasn’t carrying money on me, I had deadlines to meet and they wouldn’t let me leave to go and pay the fine elsewhere or withdraw money. I had no option but to leave my daughter.”

Her warrant for arrest was issued on a camera fine which she wanted to contest. She was allegedly doing 110km/h in a 60km/h zone.

“I waited for a summons to get a court date, but it never arrived,” said Goodman.

She is one of several residents who claim not to have received a summons before being told there is an outstanding warrant of arrest.

City policy states if a person does not “admit guilt on the charge”, they are “at liberty” to defend themselves “after a summons has been served” on them. uMhlathuze’s traffic department is responsible for issuing the summons.

In a 2010 DPP internal memo, which The Witness has seen, it says that a person may only be arrested with a warrant of arrest if “the initial infringement was committed in the presence of a peace officer”.

The uMhlathuze Traffic Department was contacted for comment, but did not respond after a period of ten days.

The Witness has learnt that the council refrained from answering the questions “as they had been contacted by the DPP and would address their questions first”.

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