Minister of Transport regurgitating old threats

JOHANNESBURG – Justice Project South Africa has noted that the Minister of Transport, Ms Dipuo Elizabeth Peters is once again giving motorists an “early Christmas present” by regurgitating threats she levelled at them around this time last year, as well as making additional ones in Parliament.

Last year, the Minister and the CEO of the RTMC threatened delinquent drivers, in particular those who drive at speeds above the speed limit and those who are under the influence of alcohol with extended periods of incarceration prior to being released on bail to be tried in a criminal court and this year the Minister appears to be doing exactly the same thing. This comes in spite of her assertions last year to the effect that the Department of Transport was working closely with the Department of Justice to urgently have these crimes rescheduled to Schedule 5 offences under the Criminal Procedure Act. This year she is levelling the same threats and making the same assertions – thereby indicating that no progress has been made in that regard, probably because of the pure absurdity of it all.

In addition, it would appear that some “road safety commentators” are blaming the Department of Justice for the incredibly low conviction rate of those charged with driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect by saying that “the department of justice did not take the prosecution of road offenders seriously”.

This is a very dangerous and somewhat foolish assertion to be making, given the fact that there is a lot more to convicting a person who is alleged to have been under the influence of alcohol than simply arresting them and it would appear that both, the Minister and these “road safety commentators” are unaware of this fact.

Whilst JPSA has an inherent and vehement dislike for those who do drive whilst they are intoxicated, it is also acutely aware of the fact that proper evidence is a fundamental requirement in criminal trials and it is and remains unhelpful that blood test results from the State run laboratories typically take ages to come back, if indeed they ever do come back.

Simultaneously, JPSA is a big fan of a piece of legislation called “the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa” which is supposed to be the supreme law of the land and holds that “every accused person has the right to be presumed innocent [until proven guilty]”. The South African Police Service (SAPS) standard operational procedures (SOPs) already dictate that a person who is arrested for an offence involving alcohol must be detained for a minimum of four hours before being released on bail and in reality, such detention periods easily exceed three times that. The release on bail is not to be viewed as a fine or as constituting the excusing of such an accuse person from the crime they stand accused of, but to be exactly what it is – a warning to appear in court to be tried for that crime.

What is vitally important is that, particularly with DUI offences and in order for people to take the prosecution therefor seriously, the matter must be dealt with swiftly and those who are convicted must “feel the pinch”. To suggest, as the Minister does, that accused persons should be punished prior to even seeing the inside of a court is quite simply absurd and is tantamount to adopting principles which have no regard for due process, the criminal justice system and/or the Constitution.

The second threat arising from the Minister of Transport comes in the form of prosecution for “civil disobedience” towards e-tolls, as was levelled in her reply to a question in Parliament. Again, it is noted that the Minister chooses to engage in threats against the citizens of this country instead of seeking proper resolution to the problem.

The State is fully entitled to prosecute so-called “e-tolls offenders” but must remain mindful of Section 9(1) of the Bill of Rights under the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 which holds that “Everyone is equal before the law…”. If it is the Minister’s and SANRAL’s intention to prosecute so-called “e-tolls offenders” for “civil disobedience”, then they must prosecute all, over 2 million “offenders” and not simply “cherry pick” a few select “offenders” like has been done with the “civil summonses” which have now suddenly gone quiet, or the single prosecution for licence plate fraud which took place under the Criminal Procedure Act.

We are sure that the South African Post Office will welcome the additional revenue which will arise out of the posting well in excess of 2 million AARTO infringement notices by “secure mail” daily and SANRAL need not worry about this expenditure being seen to be irregular by the Auditor General since the SAPO will surely bill them and in so doing, bail the SAPO out of the financial hole it is in. Therefore SANRAL need not worry too much about being chased out of Parliament by SCOPA for not coming prepared again.

The carnage on South Africa’s roads is a serious matter and should be tackled with all of the vigour and seriousness it deserves. However, taking short-cuts, ignoring the very real problems and engaging in threats is not the way to go about it. If and when the Department of Transport, the Minister and the traffic authorities alike wake up and begin to understand that professionalism and addressing the real underlying problems will go a long way to curing the ills which play themselves out on our roads daily, then and only then will changes in the behaviour of motorists (and other road users) start to come about. In the meantime however, people have become less and less sensitive to the repeated threats levelled by the Minister and others in her employ.

JPSA urges motorists to adopt a responsible approach and to avoid breaking the law. There is simply no excuse for drink/drug driving and in the process, putting everyone’s safety at risk.