Suspected RTIA corruption 'undermines public confidence' in proposed AARTO Act

A law enforcement officer in Durban, South Africa
A law enforcement officer in Durban, South Africa
Darren Stewart

• One, or more, members at RTIA are suspected of corruption.

• The announcement highlights how frail the proposed AARTO Act is to crime.

• Howard Dembovsky calls on RTIA to win back the public's trust.

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Major developments at the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) saw its Board putting its Registrar/Chief Executive Officer, a dual role, under precautionary suspension. RTIA says that the decision came following the 2019/20 Audit findings by the Audit-General of South Africa (AGSA) suspecting maladministration.

Several whistle-blower reports have come under the AGSA's attention. RTIA said in a statement: "Having appraised itself with the AGSA findings and whistle-blower reports, a forensic investigations firm has been appointed to conduct a forensic investigation to the findings of the AGSA and whistle-blower reports."

RTIA's Board says it will give AGSA will support and preserve the integrity of the investigation. It has therefore placed the Registrar/Chief Executive Office under precautionary suspension with full pay. The investigators will have full, unfettered access to information. RTIA says its Board will consider the recommendations concluded from the forensic report.

The statement further said: "Once the forensic report is rendered, the Board will consider the recommendations, take legal advice thereon, and then take the appropriate decision on whether there exists any merit for RTIA to proceed with disciplinary action against the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer and such other implicated senior employees.

"The Board has appointed Advocate Mncedisi Bilikwana as acting Registrar/Chief Executive Officer. Bilikwana is currently the executive head of Legal and Governance."

READ: It's official: Aarto scheduled to roll out in SA in July 2021 - here's how the points work

Traffic officer
Traffic officer

A reckless endeavour 

Implementing the AARTO Act (as amended) countrywide would be reckless now that a forensic investigation has been launched into the Registrar's activities of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA). According to Howard Dembovsky, chair of Justice Project South Africa (JPSA), who was speaking in the wake of the shock suspensions of the Registrar, Japh Chuwe, and other unnamed 'senior employees' of the RTIA. 

Dembovsky added that the fact that the Auditor General uncovered the maladministration strongly suggests that it involves finances, saying: "This does not bode well for a SOE that the public will soon have to trust to handle billions of Rands in traffic fine revenue."

READ: It's a joke! AA slams AARTO as a mockery aimed at 'enhancing revenue collection'

He said the AARTO Amendment Act, signed by the President in August 2019, and the draft AARTO (Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences) regulations published for public comment on 2 October 2020 "unashamedly favour profit over road safety". He adds they, JPSA, envisage a vast flood of revenue that has proven an open invitation to corruption in SOEs in South Africa.

"Fines have been tripled (or more), 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," Dembovsky explained.

licence,drivers, motorists,fines,traffic
A Metro Police officer talks to a motorist at a roadblock in Cape Town, South Africa.

A lucrative venture

The Infringement Penalty Levy of R100 per infringement notice that is "issued and followed up by proper administrative processes" will, on its own, generate a billion Rand 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.

Dembovsky adds: "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. 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!"

READ: OPINION | Sadly, AARTO enforcement orders are fuelling crime

AARTO's planned national implementation date is 1 July this year. Dembovsky commented that a forensic investigation into what is regarded as severe malfeasance could likely not be completed with just 145 days to go before that date.

He concludes: "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 many options but to pause it yet again. 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."

law enforcement
A law enforcement officer in Durban, South Africa

Compiled by: Charlen Raymond

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