A further dark cloud has been cast over the implementation of the already controversial Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act which is scheduled to be implemented in July this year with two prominent organisations calling for it to be shelved writes Patrick O’Leary.
This follows action taken earlier this month by the board of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) to place its CEO and Registrar, Japh Chuwe – along with other unnamed senior employees – under “precautionary suspension” with full pay.
The RTIA is the independent adjudicator or arbiter of traffic infringements and fines issued under the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act.
A statement released by the RTIA on February 5th, 2021 stated that the decision arose from the 2019/2020 Audit findings by the Auditor-General of South Africa as well as from several whistle-blower reports on allegations of “serious maladministration by the Registrar and these officials.”
“Having appraised itself with the AGSA findings and whistle-blower reports, a forensic investigations firm has been appointed to conduct a forensic investigation into the findings of the AGSA and whistle-blower reports,” the statement said, adding that the action was taken to preserve the integrity of the investigation and to maintain stakeholder confidence while allowing the investigators “unfettered access”.
“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 first to react to this news was Howard Dembovsky, chair of Justice Project South Africa, a non-governmental, non-profit organisation dedicated to the improvement of road traffic law and its enforcement, as well as to road safety in South Africa.
Commenting on the “precautionary” suspensions, Dembovsky said 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.”
Dembovsky also stated that a forensic investigation into what is clearly being regarded as serious malfeasance would likely not be completed before the Act is scheduled to be implemented in July.
“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. 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 said.
The Road Freight Association (RFA) has gone a step further calling for the implementation of AARTO not to be paused but rather to be scrapped saying it is “shocked and deeply disturbed” about these suspensions.
“While we welcome the uncovering of corruption, it would be irresponsible and reckless for Government to proceed with the implementation of AARTO. The RFA has over the years expressed concern and uneasiness about AARTO and its susceptibility to fraud, corruption, and money laundering. The RTIA’s announcement is confirmation of our worst fears,” says Gavin Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of the RFA, adding that once AARTO is implemented, the RTIA will be handling Billions of Rand.
“How can we now trust the entity, especially when the dishonesty and corruption is allegedly at the highest level in the Agency? We already face huge corruption, extortion and intimidation at the hands of traffic police on a daily basis and this latest development has highlighted how rampant dishonesty is in the public service – especially in the traffic law enforcement and management structures. These allegations have undermined what little faith we had in RTIA. If the system is implemented, we envisage theft on a grand scale. The RFA once again proposes that AARTO be shelved.”
The RFA believes that proper traffic management strategies which focus resources on addressing hazardous locations and other aspects of unsafe road behaviour would be far more effective in improving road safety – “rather than the current cumbersome AARTO system being proposed.”
“The continuously amended system is all about generating revenue and not at all about road safety, which was what the system was originally about. Huge administrative resources will be required to implement and sustain an antiquated and cumbersome system, putting additional burdens on already-overburdened government authorities and the private sector,” said Kelly.
Editor’s Footnote: Apart from the ‘trust’ cloud hanging over AARTO due to the suspensions at the RTIA, transport operators are also finding it a “nightmare’ to prepare and gear up for implementation of the system on a national basis. “This is an administrative nightmare, especially for big fleets, and I see huge problems ahead. It is also a system that opens up massive opportunities for bribery,” is what one transporter told me. What do you feel about AARTO? What problems are you finding in preparing your company for its implementation? Do you think it will work? Let us know by sending an email to The Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.