Public hearings on Road Accident Fund (Transitional Provisions) Bill [B22-2012]

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31 July 2012
Chairperson: Mr L Suka (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Adverts had been placed in various national newspapers requesting the public to make submissions on the Road Accident Fund (Transitional Provisions) Bill. However only a few of the submissions could be considered because most did not relate substantively to the Bill. Mr Temilton was present at the meeting to reflect on his submission and commented that the activities of intermediaries such as agents and touts had given the public the perception that access to the Road Accident Fund (RAF) had been “privatised”. It seemed that one could only approach the RAF via the legal profession who took a lot of the money intended for the client. The South African Commuters Organisation (SACO) commented that there was an existing disparity between tourists and South African citizens in respect of the amount of money which could be claimed by claimants. This disparity was in favour of tourists and there was a need to rectify the situation. The activities of intermediaries such as agents and lawyers had reduced the amount of money claimed by an accident victim and there was a need to make it possible for claimants to have direct access to the RAF. SACO further commented that the cap of R25 000 for certain categories of claimants was inadequate and the amount ought to be increased to R40 000. There was also a need to consult traditional leaders on the Bill.

Members asked how many newspapers had been used in making the advert which requested for submissions; why a cap of R25 000 had been placed as the maximum claim; why the RAF could not set up more satellite offices; what the RAF was doing to ensure that the activities of fraudulent intermediaries could be curbed. Suggestions were made that there ought to be increased cooperation between SACO and RAF. The disparity between awards made to tourists and SA citizens also had to be looked at.

Meeting report

The Acting Chairperson, Mr L Suka (ANC), apologised on behalf of the Chairperson, N Bhengu (ANC), who was unable to attend the meeting because she had to visit a relation who was hospitalised.

The Acting Chairperson acknowledged the presence of stakeholders who had come to listen to the submissions. Requests for comment on the Road Accident Fund (Transitional Provisions) Bill had been advertised for three weeks. Most of the submissions were in written form but there were a couple of people who were keen on making oral submissions. The Chairperson observed that most of the submissions dealt with the payment of claims and very few of the submissions dealt with the substantive matters of the Bill.

Mr E Temilton oral submission
Mr Elvis Temilton stated he had come across the advert requesting submissions on the Bill in a local newspaper in Mpumalanga and that he had been interested because it concerned the Road Accident Fund. He commented that the Bill was a good step in the right direction to redress the injustice the Bill sought to rectify, nevertheless he wanted to point out that there were some problems at the Attorney-Client level. He said the Bill ought to have addressed the plight of the poor who could not always access the Road Accident Fund (RAF). Mr Temilton added that the RAF process had been inadvertently privatised and that there was a need to de-privatise the process. He commented that the RAF was now been used to generate money “for a certain group of people”.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Temilton for the reflection on his submission and assured him that his comments would be noted. He commented that the RAF was a public entity and it could therefore not be privatised. He asked members to further comment on the assertions of Mr Temilton.

Mr I Ollis (DA) agreed with the Chairperson’s comments that the RAF had not been privatised.

Mr Ollis sought to know how many newspapers had been used in advertising the request for submissions on the RAF Bill. He stated that this inquiry was necessary in order to know if wide publicity had been given to the advert requesting submissions so that the Committee could rest assure that the public had been adequately informed of the request for submissions.

Ms D Dlakude (ANC) stated that her understanding of what Mr Temilton was trying to say was that the common man was been cheated by the attorneys and that a poor person should be able to personally apply directly to the RAF instead of going through the legal route of applying through an attorney whereby they end up being cheated.

The Committee Secretary responded to the question about how many newspapers had been used for advertising, saying advertisement for submissions had been placed in major newspapers in all provinces.

Mr Eugene Watson, RAF CEO, responded to the claims of Mr Temilton that the RAF was generating money “for a certain group of people”. He admitted that the RAF had created an economy within itself in which lawyers and agents were participating in this micro economy. The reality was that the claimant would get a lesser amount of money, the more this “economy” within the RAF grew.

Mr Watson admitted that the RAF had not fulfilled its mandate perfectly but there were signs that this could be achieved. He cited a recent example where the RAF had attended to over 800 people and settled seventy five claims which were over R20 million in only one day.

He stated that the ability to help people directly without the influence of intermediaries in making claims to the RAF was possible and all that was needed was for the RAF to make a greater effort to ensure that this became a reality.

The Chairperson observed that there were a number of written submissions and directed that they would be looked at one after the other.

Mr Ollis commented that the substantive submissions which directly related to the Bill and which ought to be dealt with were submissions four, twelve and thirteen. The other submissions merely dealt with issues relating to services and claims where were not relating to the Bill.

The Chairperson agreed with Mr Ollis and directed that the Committee consider the fourth submission which had been made by Norman Berger & Partners Inc. He requested for comments relating to the submissions.

Written submission by Norman Berger & Partners Inc
Mr Terence Gow, RAF Project Manager in the Department of Transport (DOT), stated that the issue raised in this submission was a new matter and did not relate to the Bill.

The Chairperson asked if there was any other issue raised in the submission that required consideration.

Mr Gow replied that there were some smaller issues which dealt with the interpretation of the words used in the Bill. For example, the word ‘prescribe’ as used in the Bill was confusing. However, he stated that the DOT would disagree with the observation made in the submission because the context in which the word was used in the Bill was quite clear.

Written submission by Law Society of South Africa (LSSA)
Mr Gow stated that there were a number of matters which the DOT would like to raise about the LSSA but it was unfortunate that the legal counsel of the DOT who had taken a detailed review of the submission was not at the meeting to present these matters. However, the DOT was ready to respond to the submission from a general point of view.

The Chairperson commented that it would be in order to invite LSSA to the next round of deliberations on the Bill so that it could take the Committee through the submission.

Adv Adam Masombuka, DOT Acting Chief Director of Legal Services, admitted that the Committee had the discretion to decide if LSSA ought to be present when its submission was considered. He stated that the DOT would however prefer to respond to the submission immediately.

Mr Ollis observed that the legal counsels of the DOT and RAF were absent and suggested that it would be in order to ensure they were present when the LSSA submission was considered so that advice could be offered to the Committee on the response of the RAF and DOT.

Mr Watson stated that the RAF, like the DOT, was ready to the respond to the LSSA submission and urged the Committee to consider the submission.

Ms Dlakude agreed with Mr Ollis’s opinion and stated that it would be proper for LSSA to be present as well as the legal counsel of the DOT and RAF. This was in order to avoid a situation in which the Bill would be later contested and withdrawn just as it was time for it to be adopted.

The Chairperson agreed with the opinion of members and decided that LSSA would be invited to the next meeting

Mr Watson stated that the RAF would abide by the Committee’s decision to invite LSSA.

Written submission by Ms L Giyama
Mr Gow commented that Ms Giyama’s submission did not deal specifically with the Bill. Ms Giyama’s claim had already been settled. The Bill applied to claims where a final settlement had not been reached.

The Chairperson asked if this information had been communicated to Ms Giyama.

Adv Masombuka stated that a formal response had not yet been communicated to her.

The Chairperson said a response should be communicated to Ms Giyama and directed the RAF to do so.

Mr Ollis suggested that the Committee Secretary should send a letter to Ms Giyama on behalf of the Committee to let her know that her submission had been considered. This should apply to all the people whose submissions had been considered.

The Chairperson agreed with this suggestion and directed the Committee Secretary to do so.

South African Commuters Organisation (SACO) oral submission
Mr Stephen Sangweni, President of SACO, stated that SACO believed that accidents should be treated without categorising them. Passengers ought not to be subjected to more pain by sending them from pillar to post according to these categories. The amount to be awarded for claims should also be increased to R40 000.

SACO strongly believed that some of the present laws were discriminatory especially to the citizens of the country because when it came to tourists from other countries they were paid more than South Africans. It was therefore suggested that the same amounts should be applied to all victims.

SACO submitted that the amount mentioned in clause 2(1) of the Bill ought not to be limited to the maximum of R25 000 only because medical expenses could be more than the mentioned amount in the clause. It was suggested that the amount should be increased to R40 000.

In respect of parliamentary procedure, SACO was of the opinion that the State should respect traditional leaders by referring the Bill to the National House of Traditional Leaders because in the rural areas people in the communities believed in their leadership.

SACO also proposed that the government ought to examine the fate of family members of the accident victim. It was believed that the government ought to cater for bereaved families.
SACO was also concerned about the accessibility to information on the RAF by communities in the rural areas to. People found themselves in the hands of so-called agents who even went as far as going to the homestead of victims. The communities in rural areas had been greatly exploited by these so-called agents of lawyers and many victims had been robbed. SACO also wanted to raise awareness that some officials of RAF satellite offices were directing victims to lawyers instead of dealing directly with the RAF.

Mr Sangweni cited an example of a victim who had been involved in an accident in October 2005 and whose ribs had been broken in the accident. The victim had yet to be paid out despite the fact that a number of agents had approached the victim for his details. Touts made it hard for the victims to claim directly from the RAF.

Mr Sangweni said SACO was willing to work with RAF to ensure victims got their claims directly from the RAF. SACO was against lawyers representing commuters who sought to claim from the Fund and that commuters should be able to claim directly from the Fund.

Mr Ollis said that SACO’s submission showed the problems faced by claimants and proposed the RAF should get SACO’s contact details so that urgent claims could be immediately addressed by the RAF. He asked why the amount of R25 000 had been fixed as a maximum by the RAF.

Ms Dlakude stated that there was a need to change the position where tourists were paid more than South Africans. She commented that there was a need to fast track the establishment of satellite offices in the rural areas which would make the processing of claims easier.

The Chairperson asked the DTO and RAF to respond to the questions and submissions.

Mr Gow responded to the question relating to why claims were limited to a cap of R25 000. He stated that claims to the RAF were no longer limited to R25 000. This was because claims to the RAF since the 1st of August 2008 were dealt with in the same way as other claims and as such the R25 000 limit no longer existed in respect of claims for accidents that occurred after 1st August 2008. He stated that the RAF Bill sought to deal with claims that arose prior to 1st August 2008 and which were limited to R25 000 under the old dispensation by moving claimants into a position which was at least equal to the position that existed after 1st August 2008.

Mr Gow responded to SACO’s submission that the dependants of the victims had been neglected. He stated that the RAF indeed took care of dependants in cases where breadwinners were killed. Under the old dispensation each claimant’s third party was entitled to R25 000 however, in respect of claims which had not yet been finalised, the RAF Transitional Bill would ensure that the limit of R25 000 would not apply so a much better compensation would be available.

Adv Mongameli Kweta, the state law advisor, replied to SACO’s submission that Department consultation on the Bill should have involved traditional leaders. He stated that the Bill did not deal with customary law or customs of traditional communities and so there was no need to refer it to traditional leaders. However, Parliament was empowered by the Constitution to facilitate public involvement and there was available case law which stipulated how Parliament could facilitate public involvement. In view of this, Parliament had the discretion to consult anyone including traditional leaders if it so wished.

Mr Watson commented that the increase in the claim from R25 000 to R40 000 was a welcome development. He was in agreement with the submission that there was a disparity between the amount that could be claimed by tourists and South African citizens. There was a need to look closely at the situation so that changes could be made.

Mr Watson commented on the fraudulent activities involving agents and staff of the RAF, saying over 500 arrests had been made and some of those arrested included touts, agents and even those in the legal profession. He urged that all cases of fraud should be reported and registered with the RAF dedicated hotline.

Mr Watson referred to the case cited by SACO which involved an accident victim who had not been paid out his claim for an accident which had occurred in 2005. He urged SACO to provide RAF with the details so that his case could be looked into urgently.

Mr Watson replied on the issue of more satellite offices being needed. He stated that there had been an expansion of satellite offices and the RAF was present in five provinces, however the RAF was not able to be in every place an accident occurred. The prime importance was for the RAF to make itself easily accessible to claimants which could be done by allowing claimants to send messages to certain dedicated lines and the claimants would be called back in return.

Mr Watson also welcomed the offer to work with SACO and stated that contact details would be exchanged after the meeting.

The Chairperson thanked everyone present and the meeting was adjourned.

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