Media Releases

SANRAL’s propaganda goes into overdrive

Image: Moneyweb

“Apart from annual tariff increases, no amendments to the ‘e-road regulations’ have been published since 2015.” This is according to Howard Dembovsky, chairperson of Justice Project South Africa, who was commenting on an article that appeared in the City Press over the weekend.

“The non-payment of toll may result in road users not being issued with their vehicle license disc, upon renewal of the vehicle license. Road users will be able to renew their licenses, but the disc itself will be withheld until the outstanding toll related infringements have been settled,” reads point 4 on SANRAL’s e-tolls website, under the heading: “New Dispensation for e-toll”.

While SANRAL’s spokesperson, Vusi Mona apparently insists that this is something new, it is not. SANRAL has been threatening this since the onset of the e-tolling debacle and the provision has always existed in the AARTO Act for enforcement orders to be issued against any outstanding infringement, including non-payment of e-tolls, to coerce payment of the fine. The net effect of an enforcement order is to programmatically block licensing transactions on the NaTIS.

Despite it being an issuing authority in the AARTO scheme, SANRAL has not issued a single infringement notice for failure to pay e-tolls since they came into force in December 2013. It has also failed to prosecute a single motorist for not paying e-tolls, using the Criminal Procedure Act, which applies outside of the jurisdictions of the JMPD and TMPD.

Dr Stoychev, who was convicted of fraud in 2015 plead guilty to displaying false number plates with the further intent to dodge e-tolls and traffic fines. Since then, no other cases have been brought before the criminal courts by SANRAL, which at the time, crowed how significant that conviction was.

In the absence of amendments to the “e-road regulations”, SANRAL’s best hope to withhold licensing transactions against motorists who fail to pay e-tolls rests in the AARTO Amendment Act, which retains fining for failure to pay e-toll, adds two new charge codes to enable it more specifically, and allows SANRAL to electronically serve infringement notices on alleged infringers instead of posting them using so-called “registered mail”.

Set for national implementation on 1 July 2021, the AARTO Amendment Act has been steeped in controversy regarding its clear objective of promoting revenue generation over road safety and placing an ominous administrative burden on motorists who are presumed guilty of any infringement.

The latest person to criticise the two schemes and how they are linked to one another, has been Gauteng’s MEC for Roads and Transport, Jacob Mamabolo. Shortly thereafter, Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula made yet another “promise” to make an announcement regarding the fate of e-tolling, by no later than the end of March 2021. Mbalula has repeatedly made and failed to deliver on many other such “promises” since President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed him to the post of Transport Minister.

“Whether Vusi Mona is trying to steal Minister Mbalula’s limelight in announcing what will become of e-tolling or not is irrelevant,” said Dembovsky. “On the face of things, what is clear is that government has no intention to scrap e-tolling and that it would rather risk triggering a vehicle licensing fees revolt than to admit that it was wrong in contriving this diabolical and convoluted scheme,” he concluded.

WARNING: Check Camera Fines Carefully

Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) has warned vehicle owners to carefully check any speed camera-based traffic fines they receive or happen to discover on their banking app or on the internet.

JPSA chair, Howard Dembovsky, said so-called ‘capture errors’ were causing motorists to be incorrectly charged with infringements and criminal offences they didn’t commit. “In one recent case, a motorist faced a criminal charge because the location of the infringement was incorrectly recorded.”

In that instance, the motorist was on a freeway, travelling at 134km/h in a 120km/h zone and should have received an infringement notice for exceeding the 120km/h limit by 14km/h. The image shows his vehicle on the freeway. However, the location at which the violation was alleged to have occurred was given as an urban road several kilometres away, in an 80km/h zone.

“Using the incorrect location, the motorist was no longer alleged to have been just 14km/h over the speed limit, but a massive 54km/h over it. Exceeding the speed limit by more than 30km/h in an urban area is automatically classified as a criminal offence and triggers a mandatory court appearance,” Dembovsky explained. “For this reason, it is essential that the authorities record the location of an alleged violation correctly, both to prevent spurious criminal charges like in this case, but also to ensure genuine traffic offenders are brought to book.”

He said the JPSA was assisting the motorist to have the defective notice of intention to prosecute him in court withdrawn but remained concerned that the same location mistake may have applied to many other camera violations recorded at the same place on the same day.

“Camera violations are meant to be reviewed by traffic officer before being issued to prevent this kind of error. JPSA no longer has confidence that these reviews are being done properly, or indeed at all, which raises the greater question of what levels of oversight exist in traffic law enforcement,” he concluded.

Suspension of senior RTIA executives is a serious matter – JPSA

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

The RTIA was brought into being by the AARTO Act, which creates an administrative scheme of dealing with traffic fines and, in its amended form all but entirely removes the jurisdiction of the lower courts over them.

“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 added 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 SOE that the public will soon have to trust to handle billions of Rands in traffic fine revenue,” he added.

He said the AARTO Amendment Act, signed by the President in August 2019, and the draft AARTO regulations published for public comment on 2 October 2020 “unashamedly favour profit over road safety”. He said they envisage a vast flood of revenue which, in South Africa, has proven an open invitation to corruption in SOEs.”

“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,” he explained.

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.

“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!”

AARTO’s planned national implementation date is 1 July this year, and Dembovsky commented 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 commented. “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 concluded.

The RTIA’s media release appears below:

Tweets are not law, Mr Minister

Justice Project South Africa (“JPSA”) is alarmed that on 31 December 2020, Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula falsely and irresponsibly tweeted:

“In order to ease the pressure on motorist and to allow sufficient time for authorities to clear the backlogs as a consequence of the earlier restrictions, we have extended the validity of learner’s and driver’s licences, vehicle licences, professional driving permits”.

As of 5 January 2021, no government gazette which gives any effect to the said extension of the validity period of vehicle licenses and the discs associated with them has been published. This rubbishes the Minister’s claims that as of 31 December last year the said extension had already been effected.

He did not say “we will” or “we are going to” extend the validity period of vehicle licenses, he said “we have” done so.

Despite his unfortunate tendency to take to social media to promote himself, the Minister is a trusted public official whose word should be beyond reproach. It is only when or if the appropriate amendment is published in the government gazette that it will be of any force and effect. Twitter is not a substitute for the government gazette. Full stop!

Several media houses have published the Minister’s false claims and as a result, it is not unlikely that trusting members of the public who have taken him on his word have been fined.

Members of the public are advised to place no reliance in tweets emanating from the Minister of Transport unless specific, verifiable references to official government publications are provided to back up his claims.

UPDATE

Since we put this media release out, Minister Mbalula has deleted his tweet. This is not an unusual behaviour of dishonest people. That is why we made a screen capture of it before putting this media release out.

On Saturday 9 January 2021, the Department of Transport put out a media release “clarifying” the situation. It appears below and is also incorrect. It refers to the Government Gazette of 30 November 2020.

Although the Minister signed the amendment on  30 November 2020, no Government Gazette dealing with licensing was published on that day. The date of the said gazette was 3 December 2020.

The amendment to direction 6 appeared at regulation 2 on page 4 of Government Gazette 43958 of 3 December 2020. As can be seen at regulation 3, its date of commencement was the date of its publication in the Government Gazette.

RTMC threatens motorists with unlawful arrest

ANPR cameras are used to identify vehicles with unpaid traffic fines

Justice Project South Africa (“JPSA”) notes with concern that the RTMC has stated its intention to flout the law and violate the Constitution this festive season.

According numerous media reports, “The RTMC advises all motorists to check if they have any outstanding traffic fines before embarking on their festive journeys. Traffic officers are being deployed on all major routes and those found with outstanding traffic fines will not be allowed to proceed.”

There is no provision in any law that authorises traffic officers to prevent motorists from proceeding with their journey if they are found to have outstanding traffic fines. A traffic fine is not a warrant of arrest and should not be regarded as one. An arrest warrant is issued by a judicial officer if a person has been summoned to court and has failed to appear.

A traffic fine however constitutes an allegation of wrongdoing. It is not an invoice or a tax. Preventing anyone from proceeding with their journey on the strength of an “outstanding traffic fine” constitutes de facto unlawful arrest. Forcing such persons to pay a fine or fines under threat of formal arrest constitutes extortion.

“As much as I detest having to continually repeat myself, it is high time that traffic law enforcement officials started obeying the provisions of the law that apply to them,” said JPSA’s Chairperson, Howard Dembovsky. “The RTMC is too fond of threatening motorists with things that are not provided for in law,” he continued.

For many years now, the RTMC has threatened motorists who are alleged to be driving under the influence of alcohol with “a minimum of seven days in jail” before being allowed to make a bail application. There is no such provision in the law that authorises this and it is unlikely that there ever will be.

The RTMC is responsible for coordinating road traffic law enforcement nationally.

“Instead of inciting unlawful behaviour by traffic officers, the RTMC should be acting responsibly, by concentrating on initiatives that promote road safety and save lives, where reckless drivers are stopped before they crash into other road users,” Dembovsky said.

“While hidden speed cameras are super money-spinners for greedy municipalities and roadblocks can detect unroadworthy vehicles, together with those that have unpaid traffic fines, neither tackle the wanton reckless behaviour that plays itself out on our roads every day. Only professional visible and active policing can do that,” he concluded.


UPDATE

In response to requests for clarification from Amanda Watson, a senior journalist at The Citizen regarding what legislation provides for traffic officers to prevent motorists from proceeding with their journey if they have outstanding traffic fines, the spokesperson for the RTMC, Simon Zwane said:

“I said people should check if they don’t have warrants of arrests against their name. Warrants issued in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act. Many parts of the country are using section 56 notices of CPA to issue traffic fines and warrants are issued for people fail to pay and fail to appear in court. It is not an Aarto process”. However, as appears below, this is not what the RTMC’s press statement said.

Zwane then went on to say: “It’s warrants issued against unpaid traffic fines and failure to appear in court on the date stated on the traffic notice issued. The starting is an in unpaid fine that leads to a warrant.”

Again, JPSA reiterates that a warrant of arrest in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act will only ever arise in respect of a traffic fine if a person is summoned to appear in court and fails to appear. There is no requirement in the Criminal Procedure Act that anyone MUST pay an admission of guilt fine, and in so doing, admit that they are guilty of the alleged criminal offence.

It is not clear why the RTMC continues to believe that it can threaten unlawful actions. The difficulty with it doing so is that some traffic officers may believe the RTMC and end up inviting a flood of civil claims against their employers when they unlawfully arrest people.

The RTMC’s press release appears below (with the relevant text highlighted):

08112020-Festive-season-arrests-highlighted

National Road Traffic Amendment Bill public participation re-opened

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport has re-opened the public participation process regarding the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill, 2020.

The Committee’s website states: “This is a second call for submission on this bill (the previous ran from 26 October to 20 November). The Committee noted that over 6 900 submissions had been received but this was a small number relative to the driving population who would be affected by the Bill. The Committee agreed that the Bill should be more widely advertised, including on radio.”

JPSA points out that the last time driving licence holder statistics were published was in March 2017. As of 28 February 2017, there were 12 283 777 licensed drivers in South Africa.

Considering that the RTMC has repeatedly said that around a half a million new drivers join the driving population annually, it is possible that the current number of licensed drivers is approaching 14 million.

This means that during the last public consultation round, approximately 0.05% of the driving population made submissions to the Committee. This is somewhat ironic, considering that the Bill proposes to remove the below 0,05mg/100ml (0,05%) blood sampled alcohol limit and replace it with a zero level.

JPSA made its submission to the Committee on 20 November 2020. Its submission can be found here.

“It is and remains our view that what is needed for instances of driving under the influence of alcohol (“DUI”) to be effectively reduced is for proper enforcement and prosecution to become the norm,” said JPSA Chair, Howard Dembovsky.

“Whether there is a ‘limit’ or not is irrelevant. No court will convict anyone of this criminal offence if proper forensic evidence is not put before it,” he continued.

Although tens of thousands of motorists are arrested for the crime each year and no statistics are provided by the NPA, it is a known fact that the conviction rate for DUI is extremely low.

“It is our view that removing the alcohol limit entirely will only serve to drive arrests up and the conviction rate down,” Dembovsky lamented. “Although being arrested is a horrible experience, it does not have the same deterrent effect as incurring a criminal record does,” he contends.

“If the conviction rate for DUI was close to 100%, I can guarantee you that few people would take the risk, but that will only happen if evidence is put before the courts,” he concluded.

JPSA welcomes this extension and encourages motorists to make submissions on the Bill to the Committee before the new closing date (20 January 2021). Dear South Africa has reopened its user-friendly public submission portal at https://dearsouthafrica.co.za/road-traffic/ for those who wish to easily make submissions.

Expired driving licence cards, etc. extension

Important information for affected drivers:

On 3 December 2020, the Minister of Transport issued a further extension to the validity period of all learner’s licenses, driving licence cards, temporary driving permits and professional driving permits that expired or will expire from 26 March to 31 December 2020. All such cards are deemed to remain valid until 31 August 2021.

JPSA advises anyone who falls within the category above to download a copy of Government Gazette 43958 of 3 December 2020 to print a copy of page 4 thereof and to carry such copy, together with their expired licence/permit with them while driving. This is to avoid entering into roadside litigation with anyone who may not be aware of the said extension, including but not limited to law enforcement officials, security complex guards and insurance companies.

 

 

Sadly, AARTO enforcement orders are fuelling crime

Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) is gravely concerned that fraudsters continue to exploit the existence of enforcement orders issued in terms of the AARTO Act. These criminals operate under the noses of the officials at registering authorities and driving licence testing centres in Johannesburg and Tshwane. They can be very convincing, more especially when they approach unwitting motorists who just want to renew their vehicle licence disc or driving licence card with the minimum of fuss and delay.

While this phenomenon is not new, the sharp increase in the volume of enforcement orders issued by the RTIA recently has greatly aggravated the situation. Even a single enforcement order electronically blocks licensing transactions.

Unwitting motorists are usually approached by scammers while they are queuing or when they are turned away at service counters. Often, they are approached before they even enter the licensing facility’s grounds and offered “assistance”.

Soon after providing their driving licence card to these criminals, they are presented with a printout of their AARTO infringements and told to settle all of them immediately, in cash. False claims of warrants of arrest are also used to increase the urgency, as are discounts used to sweeten the deal, if they pay now.

There is no warrant of arrest under AARTO. Furthermore, the 50% discount which is provided for if the fine is paid within 32 days of the actual or presumed service of an infringement notice cannot be reinstated once it has been forfeited.

Once a person has been scammed, he or she is offered little or no assistance by the licensing authorities. They are usually referred to the SA Police Service and, in many cases, find themselves being turned away by SAPS officials who tend to say: “no crime has occurred because you willingly gave your money to these people”. This is simply not true. All victims of fraud “willingly” give their money to scammers.

“The authorities have been aware of these problems for many years,” said JPSA’s chair, Howard Dembovsky. “Although I have served on various ‘security committees’ convened by the City of Johannesburg to tackle this issue, none of them have met this year, and it seems they have been abandoned,” he continued.

Dembovsky further expressed his concerns that: “with the intended national implementation of the AARTO Amendment Act will come so-called ‘electronic service’ and this will provide new opportunities for online scammers who run very little risk of being arrested, as may be the case with those who physically lurk at licensing centres.”

The only way for motorists to mitigate the risk of falling prey to these scams is to deal with one’s traffic fines properly. Motorists can check their AARTO fines status at http://www.aarto.gov.za/index.php/query-my-fine, after which they should exercise one of their so-called “elective options”.

Although there are other platforms, JPSA advises that if one wishes to pay an AARTO fine or enforcement order, doing so at the Checkers Money Market counter or online at payCity seems to work well and immediately changes the status to “paid”. We further advise that motorists avoid paying cash to anyone and especially not to accept “assistance” from individuals that they do not know.

Motorists who wish to educate themselves regarding the processes associated with the AARTO Amendment Act may do so by visiting https://www.jp-sa.org/aarto-amendment-act-simplified/.

JPSA and its head fully endorse the AA’s AARTO regulations submission

Spot the speed camera: The creative lengths that will be gone to in generating revenue.

Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) and its head, Howard Dembovsky in his personal capacity as a motorist, publicly endorse the submission regarding the latest draft AARTO regulations made by the Automobile Association of South Africa (the AA) on 22 October 2020.

“The latest draft regulations confirm everything that JPSA and I have been saying for over a decade, regarding the blatant commercialisation of traffic fines, and the AA has now hit the nail on the head,” said Dembovsky.  

“From the enormous increases in the fines and the administrative fees payable, to numerous new obstacles which are to be put in the way of a motorist who wishes to prove his or her innocence; these draft regulations make it clear that money and not justice or road safety is the primary focus of the AARTO Act,” he lamented.

Except where alleged infringers elect to be tried in court under its current provisions, the AARTO Act already regards traffic fines as little more than invoices.

“Should the AARTO Amendment Act be implemented nationally on 1 July 2021, where a popup Tribunal further hinders access to the lower courts, the injustices it will create are too frightening to imagine. Once regulations have been enacted, reversing them is a very tedious and costly process,” Dembovsky continued.

“In fact, the AARTO Amendment Act and its regulations now openly contradict basic principles of justice and fairness, with drivers earning minimum wage set to be hit hardest,” he concluded.

  • The AA’s submission to the RTIA may be found here.
  • The AA’s executive summary may be found here.
  • To further participate in the commenting process, please visit the DearSA legislative commenting platform or scan the QR code below. You have until 1 December 2020 to do so.

JPSA supports the AA’s licensing extension request

Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) supports the call of the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) for Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula to extend the validity period of all licenses beyond the 30 August deadline. It also urges the Minister to consider doing the same in respect of professional driving permits, and to give special consideration to the difficulties experienced by learner drivers, as a direct effect of the lockdown.

“Learner drivers whose learner’s licenses expired or are still to expire after 31 May are particularly adversely affected,” said JPSA chairperson, Howard Dembovsky. “During the ‘hard lockdown’ learner drivers could not undergo any formal instruction through driving schools, which were prohibited from operating under ‘levels 5 and 4’.”

He also asserted that the resultant demand for new tests for learner drivers who were affected by the lockdown will impact on volumes of applicants to repeat such learners’ tests. “This, in turn has a counterintuitive effect on social distancing, particularly in DLTCs where bookings must be done in person,” Dembovsky said.

Regarding professional driving permits, Dembovsky said that the process to renew a PrDP is more cumbersome than any licence and where one has or is to expire after 31 May 2020, such demand for renewals will have a similar counterintuitive effect, not only in DLTCs, but in doctors’ waiting rooms.

“We hope that the Minister will give the AA’s and our requests his urgent consideration,” he concluded.

The AA’s request to the Minister appears below:

Letter to Minister Mbalula Re License Extension (29 June 2020)