It’s been on the cards for a decade, but less than 24 hours before broader rollout, the new system for dealing with traffic offences was delayed for at least several months. Which means that the section meant to take irresponsible drivers off the roads, the demerit points system, will also be delayed. Why? Well you’d have to ask the responsible party that question – except that there doesn’t seem to be one.
Like any good soap opera that has been running since Nelson Mandela was president, you need to know the characters to understand the drama, so bear with us here.
The Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) law was implemented to overhaul completely the way in which illegal driving is handled. It seeks to bring national coherence to a mess of municipalities all doing their own thing, deal with the problems of unpaid fines, and – most significantly – make roads safer by taking away the licences of unsafe and irresponsible drivers.
Implementing Aarto is the responsibility of the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), a 15-year-old parastatal that does nothing but deal with the various municipal traffic departments, both assisting and checking up on the metro police and traffic cops around the country.
The complicated system Aarto uses for dealing with fines, which includes new ways of notifying offenders and the use of discounts to encourage prompt payment, is currently in place in Pretoria and Johannesburg, where it has been about as disastrous as you’d expect any grand scheme imposed on an entrenched bureaucracy to be. The same system was to be switched on in Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Ekurhuleni in July, as a precursor to complete national implementation in November.
Only then, once all road offences are being centrally processed, will it be possible to introduce the demerit point system, with points awarded for bad behaviour but gradually cancelled in the absence of more bad behaviour, and with the suspension and eventual cancellation of your driver’s licence as the ultimate stick to prevent speeding, reckless driving, and other dangerous behaviour.
But on Wednesday, just 24 hours before switch-on for those other cities, the RTMC announced everything had been put on hold. Why? Acting CEO Collins Letsoalo waved his hands around, muttered about a need for communication and system testing. Until when? Oh, maybe we’ll be able to figure that out in the next couple of months. Whose fault is the delay? Nobody’s, that’s who.
About the only thing the RTMC was firm about was the fact that nobody forced its hand. Or, as Letsoalo said: “The decision to postpone was taken without any pressure from anyone.” Never mind that the City of Cape Town promised to go to court to protect it from having to implement what it described as a fundamentally flawed system. Letsoalo says the city needn’t have engaged in such theatrics, because the delay was always going to happen. Presumably Cape Town should have accepted that on faith until the official announcement less than 24 hours before it was expected to switch over.
Such nonsense evasions, and associated flimsy excuses, have been following Aarto for years, but the intensity has been turned up of late. In the first week of June, the RTMC said broader implementation would be delayed because of the World Cup. On Wednesday, however, the major issues that require “further attention” identified by the RTMC included educating the road-using public and training civil servants. But that doesn’t mean failure, Letsoalo maintained, because everything is well in hand. The delays – which aren’t anybody’s fault – have nothing to do with mismanagement, because all the plans are in place. They simply haven’t been put into action just quite yet.
But though Aarto has languished through two administrations this time it may be different, provided that President Jacob Zuma’s plans for accelerated service delivery work. The RTMC say that successful implementation of Aarto, before the end of the current financial year, is part of transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele’s performance contract. Maybe, next time there is a delay, Ndebele will be the one held responsible.
By Phillip de Wet
Photo: Acting CEO Collins Letsoalo. (The Daily Maverick)