Road Accident Fund Commission Amd Bill: voting; Road Traffic Bills: briefing

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Transport

12 April 2000
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Meeting report

 

TRANSPORT PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
12 April 2000
ROAD ACCIDENT FUND COMMISSION AMENDMENT BILL: VOTING; ROAD TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT CORPORATION AMENDMENT BILL, ADMINISTRATIVE ADJUDICATION OF ROAD TRAFFIC OFFENCES THIRD AMENDMENT BILL: BRIEFING

Documents handed out:
Written motivation/Interim Report by Road Accident Fund Commission on the Amendment Bill
Report on the appointment of the secretary to the RAF Commission
Proposed amendments to Road Traffic Bill and Offences Bill
Road Traffic Management Corporation Amendment Bill
Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Third Amendment Bill

SUMMARY
Judge Satchwell, Chairperson of the Road Accident Fund Commission, gave an interim report on the work done by the Commission since 1June 1999. She also raised concerns about the questionable manner of appointment of a Road Accident Fund official who is not only receiving a total remuneration package of R53 672.50 per month but also whose presence taints the very impartiality of the Commission. The Chairperson undertook to write to the RAF on the secondment and to the Department of Transport to ask for clarity on the unsigned memorandum.

The Committee unanimously voted to pass the RAF Commission Amendment Bill which will extend the life of the Commission by twelve months. There was a briefing on the Road Traffic Bill and the Offences Bill but as they have not yet been certified, they were not voted on.

MINUTES
RAF Commission’s interim report
Judge Satchwell, Chairperson of the Road Accident Fund Commission, gave an interim report on the work done by the Commission since 1June 1999 (see document for full report).

Initially, the Commission was granted nine months to investigate the Road Accident Fund, to enquire into and make recommendations on an affordable system as well as three months to prepare a report containing such recommendations. The Commission has already sought dialogue with organisations and interested persons as well as held public hearings in respect of the payments of benefits.

The Commission has adopted a ‘zero basing of all issues for consideration’ approach, that is, questions of principle are being asked on all aspects of the Fund and its workings. For instance, what is the rationale for State intervention in compensating victims? For whose benefit must the State intervene in the compensation system? What should this intervention entail? How should the State provide compensation?

The Commission has already received written submissions on some of the following issues:
- Should the current fault-based system be retained or replaced by a no-fault system?
- Should there be exclusions from compensation, for instance to persons driving under the influence?
- What should the appropriate tool be to measure injuries? The White Paper had suggested that the American Medical Association Guide be the tool to assess need, impairment and disability. In practice, Judge Satchwell said, extent of injuries would effectively be classified according to the impact on the occupation of the person. For instance, a labourer with a crippled leg would more likely be classified as ‘disabled’ than someone who does a desk job.

Other pertinent questions which arise and which will be covered in the Commission’s final report are:
- Should there be a differentiation between victims in the sense of determining for which benefits they are eligible?
- Should there be financial limits on benefits?
- Should a tariff be used to pay, for example, hospital fees?
- Should there be a maximum income according to which a victim can claim loss of earnings?
- Should compensation benefits be paid in a lump sum or periodically (that is a structured settlement where money is available as a periodic payment but only paid out when needed).
- To what extent should there be outsourcing of the skills required by the Commission?
- What activities other than compensation should the Road Accident Fund be involved in, for example, emergency medical services?

Several days of public hearings had been held at which the Commission heard from actuaries and legal representatives on the financial state of the Fund. The Commission was interested in what the public perception was of the RAF? What is the awareness of current cost? Would people be prepared to contribute more to the Fund by means of the fuel levy?

During 1999 the Commission began its research, meeting other organisations and individuals. For instance, Judge Satchwell has been consulting an actuary on the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Fund. It must be considered that the virus influences life expectancy. Other questions include, what is the relationship between Medical Aid Schemes and the Fund?

Regarding costs, a needs-based analysis of the system is required. Why not look at the cost of setting up trauma units specifically for road accident victims on routes where bus and taxi accidents happen, especially in the Northern Province? Assess tariffs applicable in health care and ask which tariff is applicable to the RAF.

The Commission has been looking at other jurisdictions which, like South Africa, has large numbers of people dependent on bad public transport and is a complex mixture of first and third world features. The Commissioners have already visited Botswana and Australia. Other relevant jurisdictions include India, Brazil and Israel but although they have already received some responses it has not been of much use.

The Commission has a statutory duty to make recommendations that are fair and equitable measures but are also in accordance with the Commission’s financial capabilities. Cost is a factor. To make such a cost analysis, data is required on current RAF payments. For instance, are accidents occurring in rural or urban areas? Do they involve taxis or private vehicles? What are the ages of claimants? What is the employment of victims? Such information will be pertinent to recommendations and costing. Also, the structure of the Fund must suit the profile of its dependants. In the White Paper it was suggested that foreign claimants, defined as ‘anyone who is not South African’, be excluded. But the Commission argues that these persons have been contributing through the fuel levy for years already. ‘Non-residents’ was suggested as an alternative but the position is still unclear.

The White Paper also recommended that the current discrimination against passengers be removed. But no data is kept on who these passengers are. The HSRC is now doing a study on claims between May 1996 and April 1997, when the Fund began managing all claims. They are looking at demographic characteristics and a biographical profile and compiling a database. This database would be important in identifying and classifying injuries and the type of facility required.

Regarding the cost of the Commission a second budget had just been prepared. The largest expense is research. To date the estimated cost of commissioned research has been R200 000. They were over-budgeting for research at R1.5 million. Judge Satchwell referred members to the interim report for details on staff remuneration and salaries.

Questions
The Chairperson, Mr Cronin (ANC) asked members to confine their questions to the pertinent issues: was the Commission making progress and why could they not finish their task in time?

Mr Niemann (NNP) asked whether the legal fraternity was consulted widely enough on their costs in respect of the claims process. What was the relationship between the Department of Transport and the RAF? Lastly, he asked whether all countries have these sorts of funds and how others compensated their victims?

Judge Satchwell said the Commission was looking at all issues except allegations of misconduct by attorneys, which was the task of the Heath Commission. She said that the Commission had a good relationship with the Department of Transport especially with the Arrive Alive team, who had willingly assisted with information. She said it was important to consider that Africa had been colonised under two different legal systems. Those countries who, like South Africa, had been colonised under the English common law, tended to allow compensation for damages, pain and suffering and so forth. Under the Continental legal system, it was very much a ‘look after yourself’ approach.

Mr Ainslie (ANC) asked how much more time the Commission requires? Was the information and research being analysed?

Judge Satchwell said that the amendment bill asked for an additional year. The research by the HSRC would take a long time and they have not begun the research yet. Software had to be developed, questionnaires had to be drawn up, and data capturers had to be trained. However, she foresaw the Commission completing its work by the end of December. By April 2001 she was committed to work at Oxford University. She said that previously there had never been a need to collect the data. Although it was now being analysed, the present RAF would probably only use the data when they knew what the Commission’s recommendations would be.

Mr Pillay (DP) asked whether the Commission was optimistic about the HSRC’s proposed institutional changes, especially their proposal to reduce their number of researchers? He also asked how the many victims who were illiterate would be educated on the procedure of filing a claim.

Judge Satchwell said that the changes at HSRC would not have a big impact since the HSRC staff was not being used for the research. Judge Satchwell said she could not deal with the issue of illiteracy of claimants presently as it would be a recommendation in the final report.

Mr Slabbert (IFP) asked how the handling of claims would be ring-fenced? Would they be handled under the old system or the proposed new one? Judge Satchwell said that she could not answer the question as the Commission had not yet formulated a proposal for the future and did not know how it would differ from the past system.

Concerns on the appointment of secretary to the Commission
The Commission handed a second report to the Portfolio Committee expressing their concerns over the appointment and functions of Ms A Roux as secretary to the Commission who is receiving a total remuneration package of R53 672.50 per month.

These concerns were that Ms Roux had been central in the drafting of the White Papers over some years. However, it was alleged that she was part of a cabal in the RAF who took a particular viewpoint in drafting the Paper. This suggested she could not be impartial in her duties as Secretary to the Commission.

The perception of the Commissioners is that her appointment is unfortunate because it taints the very impartiality of the body. The final report might be rendered useless if allegations were then made that Ms Roux had manipulated the Commission.

They believe the financial arrangement by which Ms Roux is remunerated is unjustified. For instance, a ‘secondment allowance’ of R9000 is paid monthly to Ms Roux as agreed upon between her and the then Acting CEO of the RAF, Mr Botbijl, in December 1998.

The Commissioners had known nothing of Ms Roux’s appointment until the body convened. They are therefore not responsible for that appointment or for the monthly secondment allowance. They believe the payments already made should be reversed against the Commission’s budget. In conclusion, Judge Satchwell emphasised that at no time was the personal integrity or the competence of Ms Roux questioned. Nevertheless, the manner of her appointment was questionable. The only document establishing her appointment is an unsigned memorandum of understanding betweeen the Ministry of transport, the RAF Board and Ms Roux.

The Chairperson, Mr Cronin, thanked the Commissioners’ for their transparency and was deeply concerned about the method of Ms Roux’s appointment and her additional remuneration. As Chairperson of the Committee he undertook to write to the RAF on the secondment and to the Department of Transport to ask for clarity on the unsigned memorandum.

Mr Cronin asked the committee whether there were any members with objections against extending the life of the Commission. None of the members expressed an objection. Mr Cronin read the motion of desirability. Mr Slabbert (IFP) moved that the motion be passed, Mr Schneemann (ANC) moved for the adoption of the amendment.

Road Traffic Management Corporation Amendment Bill
Mr Cronin commented that the Bill would extend the time for appointments to the Road Traffic Management Corporation and would allow the Minister more latitude with the criteria for appointments. Mr Thabo from the Department was asked to brief the Committee on why the amendment bill was necessary.

Mr Thabo said that the long overdue Bill had to come into effect to prevent the carnage on South Africa’s roads. It would allow the Department’s business plan to be extended to three months. Regarding the Minister’s prerogative on appointments, Mr Thabo said that strict requirements should not be a burden on the Department.

Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Third Amendment Bill
Mr Thabo said the Bill would allow the Minister to headhunt candidates for positions on the Road Traffic Infringement Agency Board because he would no longer be bound by very rigid criteria when making appointments.

Neither Bill was voted on because they have not yet been certified by the state law advisors. The meeting was concluded.

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