Falsifying and failing to display number plates is not a new crime - JPSA

Justice Project South Africa has noted the Beeld Newspaper and SAPA reports regarding the fact that a Randburg man, Dr Stoyan Hristov Stoychev has appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Tuesday in connection with “charges relating to his refusal to pay e-tolls”, the illegal altering his number plates and the removal thereof. 

While it may be true that the charges against him also include charges in terms of the SANRAL Act, falsifying, deliberately obscuring and/or removing number plates from/on a motor vehicle is by no means a new crime and has been a criminal offence in terms of the National Road Traffic Act forever. 

Motorists who feel it is their right to falsify number plates, which results in offences they commit being unjustly attributed to the legitimate owner of a number plate deserve no mercy from the courts. Similarly, motorists who simply fit completely false number plates can only be viewed as criminals wishing to evade any consequence of their own wrongdoing, given the fact that the vast majority of traffic enforcement is done by camera in the pursuit of massive revenues by traffic authorities and the Municipalities that run them. 

One has to wonder why it is however that such a big deal is being made about this particular case when the trial of former Deputy Chief of the Tshwane Metropolitan Police Department, Ndumiso Jaca for fitting the same false number plates, “BALTY GP” to his unregistered, unlicensed BMW Z4 and Harley Davidson motorcycle has still not been concluded. That matter was reported in 2012 and is yet to be finalised in the same, Pretoria Magistrates Court. 

Similarly, it is interesting to note that no charges have apparently been brought against Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko for allegedly illegally fitting his former number plates to a new motor vehicle he acquired. Former spokesperson for the RTMC, Ashref Ismail was similarly not charged for operating an unlicensed motor vehicle with number plates not applicable to the motor vehicle he acquired in 2013. 

Everyone should be equal before the law, but it is quite apparent that some are more equal than others given the fact that some cases appear to be pursued with greater vigour than others. 

Insofar as the prosecution of the two motorists including charges for violating the SANRAL Act and e-Road Regulations goes (there are currently two separate cases in the Pretoria Magistrates Court), these charges should be viewed as ancillary charges, over and above the primary criminal contravention of the National Road Traffic Act. 

It would appear that SANRAL and others are trying to create the impression that these are “e-tolls prosecutions” where in fact this is not solely the case. No person can “refuse” to pay something for which they have not been billed in the first place and in light of the fact that someone else was billed due to the falsification of number plates, it is safe to say that Dr Stoychev was never billed and therefore could not have “refused to pay e-tolls”. 

Acting in a criminal manner, by removing, obscuring or falsifying number plates does not demonstrate the “civil courage” that has been talked about by those who oppose e-tolls. To the contrary, it demonstrates both, cowardice and a willingness to act like a criminal. Just because bad examples are set by high-ranking officials who subsequently get away with it does not mean that anyone else should follow that example and expect to be similarly favoured.

Clarification on unpaid traffic fines

On Tuesday 9 February 2015 the Road Traffic infringement Agency put out a media release with the grossly misleading headline: “UNPAID FINES BLOCK LICENSING BY AUTHORITIES”. 

While the content of the release vaguely clarifies the matter and correctly states that an Enforcement Order will result in licensing transactions being blocked on eNaTIS, it is important that this not be confused with a “traffic fine”. 

In terms of Section 20(2) of the AARTO Act, the Registrar may authorise the issue of an Enforcement Order if he has satisfied himself that both, an infringement notice and a courtesy letter have been served on the alleged infringer by the prescribed means. In the case of an infringement notice this could be service that occurs in person at the time of the alleged infringement or by registered mail if it is served after the fact and in the case of a courtesy letter, this must be served by registered mail. An enforcement order must also be served by registered mail. 

The more recent licence renewal notifications contain a misleading statement which reads as follows:

" Your application for a new Driving Licence Card or PrDP will not be processed unless all Enforcement Orders have been settled and all penalties and courtesy letter fees for outstanding Infringements are settled. Visit www.aarto.gov.za" 

While the first part of the statement is true, the second part of it is untrue and is used by licensing authorities to mislead people into believing that they are compelled to settle ALL outstanding infringement notices including but not limited to the illegal infringement notices the JMPD issued from 1 June 2010 to 21 December 2012. The findings of the Public Protector on this issue was that the JMPD violated the provisions of the AARTO Act and as a result, the improperly served infringement notices were “irregular” and amounted to maladministration. 

Motorists are advised to look closely at the part of this notification to see if an Enforcement Order has been issued against their particulars. If it says “Enforcement Order outstanding: No/Nee” and a licence disc is not automatically printed, motorists should ask for a R114 eNaTIS statement to determine whether they have outstanding licensing fees or penalties owing on other vehicles registered in their name, or a warrant of arrest issued against them by courts in the jurisdictions outside of the operational areas of the Johannesburg and Tshwane Metro Police Departments. 

Licensing authorities have become fond of preying on the ignorance of the average motorist who does not know and/or understand the legislative provisions that allow blocking of licensing transactions. They also appear to be of the opinion that traffic fines are somehow excluded from the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven which is enshrined in Section 35 of the Constitution. 

The media release by the RTIA should be viewed as a statement by the RTIA that they are going to resume following the legislated provisions of the AARTO Act and nothing more. Motorists who ignore infringement notices issued against their names are doing themselves no favours and would be better advised to deal with their traffic fines as quickly as possible when they receive them. 

Admitting guilt and paying a traffic fine, whether it is issued under the AARTO Act or the Criminal Procedure Act is ONE of the options but it is not the only one. Any person has the unalienable right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and is fully entitled to mount a defence against any accusation of violation of any law – including traffic infringements/offences. 

The RTIA is also tasked with EDUCATING people about the AARTO Act, but as yet, almost 7 years into the so-called “pilot phase” of the implementation of the AARTO Act, it has done very little to educate motorists and this is very sad indeed. 

Anyone who wishes to educate themselves on the provisions of both, the AARTO Act or the Criminal Procedure Act is welcome to visit JPSA’s dedicated AARTO website at www.aarto.co.za. This must not be confused with the RTIA’s AARTO website is located at www.aarto.gov.za which does not present any of the abuses that have been perpetrated by authorities operating under the AARTO Act.

e-tolls Panel “stakeholder engagement” disappointing – JPSA

Like many others, delegates from Justice Project South Africa participated in the “stakeholder engagement” event stage by Gauteng Premier, David Makhura and held at Gallagher Estate on Friday 6 February 2015. 

Attendance at the event was relatively good, considering that the invitations to it were sent out at the last minute. JPSA received its invitation on Wednesday morning, some complained that they had only received them on Thursday and we know of at least one other organisation that has not yet received an invitation to the event. Despite this event being called a “stakeholder engagement” no representatives from national government or SANRAL were at the event. 

Although the Premier went to great lengths to assure delegates that the entire process has not been a waste of time, effort and money, JPSA has now joined the ranks of those who are unconvinced that this is true. Throughout the process, JPSA has often been the lone voice saying “give the process a chance” but since the release of the report on 15 January 2015 and attending the “stakeholder engagement” on Friday it has found itself joining the ranks of the disillusioned. This is very disappointing indeed. 

While the Panel has categorically stated that e-tolling policy “in its current form” must be reviewed, found it to be inefficient and unpopular with the people and has further labelled it as being both anti-poor and “the perfection of apartheid”; it has simultaneously recommended that it should be retained in a subtly different manner as part of a so-called “hybrid funding model”.

It has further been recommended that Phase 1 of the GIFP should be funded solely by the Gauteng Province and that a levy on fuel should not be part of the “hybrid funding model” for what comprises the current e-tolls debacle. In stark contrast, a levy on fuel has not been excluded from the recommendations for the hybrid funding of Phases 2 & 3 of the GFIP. 

Premier Makhura has said that he will wrap this exercise up by the end of February and will thereafter take the Gauteng Provincial Government’s recommendations to National Government. 

JPSA looks forward to seeing what these final recommendations end up being, but is not optimistic about what they are likely to be. It is apparent that admitting that a blunder has been made in attempting to force e-tolls down the throats of Gauteng residents does not form part of the agenda. 

JPSA will be releasing a more in-depth report on its observations surrounding the entire process and the contents of the Panel report shortly but is aware of the fact that this will not be considered by the Premier since we were told on Friday that he would only consider it if we submitted it prior to leaving the event.