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Aarto is on the road to nowhere and will be another administrative nightmare for the state

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Advocate Stefanie Fick is an executive director of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and heads its accountability division. She spent nearly 20 years at the NPA as a prosecutor and has concentrated her career over the past few years into the area of civil activism litigation. She is leading Outa’s legal challenge to Aarto, due in court in October.

The Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act is a law under which wishful thinking by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula runs up hard against the reality of bureaucratic ineptitude and administrative cumbersomeness, particularly in collapsed municipalities. I for one am not holding my breath that the much-promised driver demerit system will start as promised on 1 July.

There is a government dreamland in which motorists who speed or jump traffic lights eventually lose their licences, safely taking them off the road. While this is a worthy goal, the reality is very different.

Aarto is the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act. It is, in a nutshell, a process for administering minor traffic offences such as illegal parking. Aarto, rolled out as a pilot project in Tshwane and Johannesburg in 2008, was considered a failure. Now an amended Aarto is going nationwide.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced in his budget speech on 21 May 2021 that Aarto will begin on 1 July 2021. The announcement caused panic among drivers, concerned about the implications of Aarto, and led civil society to ask the question: is it possible to roll out Aarto on 1 July?

The short answer is “no”.

Before the amended Aarto can legally be rolled out, the commencement date must be gazetted (a nice word for advertised) by the president. Guess what… although the president signed the law two years ago, there’s still no commencement date. Minister Mbalula has yet again jumped the gun. Sadly, we are used to hollow promises from the minister, who remains silent about the e-toll debacle. 

You might be wondering whether it is possible for the president to sneak in a gazette.

Anything is possible, but some things are just improbable. Without boring you with the nitty-gritty of Aarto, let me just say that even if the date is gazetted now, the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) is not ready to launch Aarto nationwide.

Building a house without bricks

Aarto now includes a new Appeals Tribunal. Traffic fines used to be contested in court, but now motorists have to go through the Appeals Tribunal first. The Appeals Tribunal is a small team of nine people who will assess motorists’ appeals. Aarto cannot function without this tribunal, but no information on their nominations or appointments has been forthcoming.

It is also still unclear where and how the tribunal’s nine members will tackle the many appeals expected.

Aarto also relies on an accurate eNaTIS system, efficient postal service and administration system, none of which exist, supporting our view that Aarto will not be rolled out any time soon.

Local government gets the short end of the stick

Many municipalities are not in a position to deal with Aarto effectively, so the RTIA has a serious problem on its hands. RTIA administration fees will also cut into revenue from municipal traffic fines in every way.

Law cannot fix poor administration

As an activist, one is often accused of trying to make government fail. Although the government is doing an awesome job of that by itself, activism is about standing up for what is right and reasonable even if it means picking a fight with the government.

When the government does not listen to its citizens but implements impractical legislation, it loses the trust of the people. It is an active citizen’s duty to point out such problems. Aarto will not work for various reasons, but what stands out is that this administrative nightmare is not the cure we desperately need for South Africa’s appalling road accident situation.

Outa believes that Aarto is unconstitutional — it interferes with municipalities’ right to regulate themselves — and began legal action against the minister in July 2020; the case is scheduled to be heard in court in October 2021. There is no requirement for the national government to agree (and it doesn’t), but wouldn’t it make sense to hold off the roll-out until that’s decided? We have waited two years since Aarto was signed for a start date, so we can manage without it a little longer… Dear Mr President, waiting for the court case to be resolved will save taxpayers’ money.

What’s the solution?

What do we want instead? We want safer roads, and a system focused on that objective.

The road accident toll is appalling and inadequately quantified. Road fatalities remain static at 14,000 and accident costs have risen from R143-billion in 2015 to R200-billion by 2020.

This is a national crisis. We should be working together to create safer roads rather than trying to save an unworkable law. Are we not better off employing competent (uncorrupted) traffic officers to catch drunk drivers and speeders?

Although Aarto will, unfortunately, be another administrative nightmare for the state, we believe that it can still be prevented. Civil activist groups will need the support of the public to hold the government accountable and hopefully work towards a better solution. DM

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All Comments 5

  • Spot on Ms.Fick. These low level civil servants are already looking at ways to corrupt the system not implement it,which they are incapable of anyway. Take Humansdorp for instance. Continual backlogs because officials take “home” the passwords and then issue licences etc illegally and when bust the whole department gets stalled. This in a relatively well run DA municipality. God help those other corrupt useless bunch of ANC places

  • You say ” … minister Mbalula has yet again jumped the gun “. Are you sure it was not a red light ? AND… given that he has repeated the offence several times … his licence to ‘speak’ has been revoked … like his intended regulation ?!

  • Even if it all goes through eventually, can you imagine how the taxi association will react when many of their drivers will rack up enough points to be suspended within a week? It’s not like our current laws are even being enforced properly and often it seems they apply to some more than others…

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