National Road Traffic Amendment Bill [B39-2008]: Department's briefing

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Transport

30 July 2008
Chairperson: Mr J Cronin (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Transport briefed the Committee on the proposed amendments to the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill [B39-2008]. The amendments were proposed to deal with fraudulent activities regarding the issuing of licences and the strategies contained in the Road to Safety Strategy for 2001-2005. The main objectives of the Bill were summarized, and the Department then detailed what was contained in the clauses.

Members questioned the disqualification process in the Bill that allowed for re-qualification after a period not exceeding 12 months, in circumstances where material aids had been used in the test. The overcrowded and inefficient testing centres were discussed and the Department of Transport outlined the strategy to address this matter and prevent fraudulent activities. It was noted that although reference was initially made only to the nearest testing centre, events had overtaken the Department and people would be allowed to attend any testing station in their provincial magisterial district. The Committee cautioned the Department not to make amendments that were not capable of implementation, and asked if the Department was trying to address the prohibition of fraudulent activities and remedy the situation. The use of ‘material aids’ at the testing of applicants was discussed and the Committee was assured that the Department had addressed this matter through an amendment in the Bill. It was made clear that the drivers of cars of MECs and Ministers and other VIP vehicles were exempted from certain provisions, not the officials themselves. It was suggested that there was a need also to make provision for cars being driven by private but authorized operators (such as doctors) in emergency situations. The conversion of foreign licences, the consolidation of competencies and powers, and the rationale and content of regulations was also needing to be further discussed.

Meeting report

National Road Traffic Amendment Bill (the Bill): Department of Transport (DoT) briefing
Mr John Motsatsing, Director: Department of Transport, had prepared a presentation on the proposed amendments contained in the National Road Traffic Bill. This outlined that the Bill proposed to give effect to some of the principal strategies contained in the Road to Safety Strategy 2001-2005; and to deal with fraudulent activities regarding the issuance of licences. The Objects of the Bill were presented. These included the enhancement of professionalism, limiting and controlling corruption, clarify conduct that would be regarded as an offence, and prohibit private persons from operating driving licence testing centers. It would enhance the quality of evaluation, require learners to take tests at centers closest to them, and provide for certain endorsements in the case of speeding drivers. Further detailed provisions were included in respect of what the Minister may authorize, conditions for emergency vehicles, delete obsolete provisions and enhance the current provisions of the National Road Traffic Act (the principal Act).

The presentation went on to detail what was contained in each of the clauses (see attached document).

Discussion
The Chairperson asked for clarity regarding the amendment to Clause 7, amending Section17 of the principal Act, so that he could have a better understanding of the wording changes. ‘Evaluation’ was replacing an ‘examination’. He asked if persons could pursue an alternative route when applying if there had been disqualification.

The Department of Transport’s officials referred to page five of the Bill in its original form. A person who applied but had been disqualified, could follow a different route for re-application. It was indicated that Mr Motsatsing would clarify the matter when he arrived at the meeting.

Ms B Thomson (ANC) stated that she would like to have clarity on Clause 7.

The representatives of the Department of Transport explained that when a person applied for a licence and was disqualified, the Bill would allow the applicant to re-apply and no disqualification occurred.
 
Mr I Mogale (ANC) stated that the objects of the Bill stated that applicants must apply at the centre nearest to their place of residence. He asked if this meant that they would be unable to obtain a licence anywhere else, and whether the Bill was trying to regulate a problem. He furthermore noted that the Objects clause spoke to regulating the conduct of traffic officers in regard to control of the loading of vehicles. Mr Mogale asked what this meant.
 
Mr Motsatsing said that the initial intention with regard to this specific provision was to try to ensure the curtailment of incidences of fraudulent acquisition of driving licences at testing centres. People were tending to go to areas other than where they resided to obtain a licence. The Department of Transport was busy trying to ring-fence the process of issuing of driving licences. If it were to insist on this, then service delivery would no longer be enhanced at certain centres where there were many  applicants.

The Chairperson noted that there was a serious problem of huge numbers of applicants going to particular places, and people coming from other provinces. The Bill was trying to correct this by ensuring that applicants should go to the nearest centre to where they resided. Since the Bill went through, this situation has changed. People were now having to be directed from overcrowded centres. An amendment to the current situation was required to direct people away from going to other provinces. He asked what was meant by ‘ring-fencing’.

Mr Motsatsing explained that the proposal was attempting to ring-fence testing across the province, and not in specific districts in terms of municipalities. Applicants could go to any centre within the province in which they resided. The re-worded amendment would state that the applicant could go to the nearest magisterial district.

Mr M Sefularo (ANC) asked whether there should be a curtailing of  the  mandatory period before the person presented herself or himself, because the intention was to prohibit such behaviour. He asked if it could be remedied by giving the person what should be a reasonable time, or to limit geographic areas to prohibit fraudulent activities. 

Ms Thomson asserted that amendments should not be made that were not capable of being implemented.

Mr Mashile asked if  it was not possible to allow more time to engage with this matter. .

The Chairperson stated that part of the problem was that this was being dealt with under the broad objectives of the Bill, and there were problems related to the wording and how to accommodate all people. Certain issues would have to be flagged for future consideration.

The Chairperson asked what was meant in clause 4(7) by the phrase ‘may follow a different process’.

Mr Motsatsing explained that if an applicant for a learners’ licence had utilised some form of material aid to assist in answering the licence questions, he or she may not re-apply for a period not exceeding 12 months.

Mr Sefulare asked if the intention was to say ‘not report to a different authority’.

Mr Motsatsing stated that if a learner had written the test, and failed although he felt that he should have passed, he could write to the MEC to lodge a grievance. The regulation gave the MEC the power to prescribe what approach to take if the person, having once failed, then needed to rewrite the test. The MEC had the powers to say where and what process to follow and to assess the situation.

Mr Motsatsing said that clause 8 was trying to enhance the provision of the learners’ licence, as the examiner, and not the administrator, was supposed to authorise the issuing of the driver’s license.

Ms Thomson asked what ‘unauthorised aid’ meant.

Mr Motsatsing explained that it referred to the case where an applicant who was tested, did the roadworthy status testing with materials to remind him of the 13-point check before he went for the test.

Mr Motsatsing said that clause 9 contained clauses dealing with the move from the old driving licence to the credit card type licence, The Minister had then been empowered  to predetermine the date when all licences should be converted from the old TBVC licences.

The Chairperson noted that it was being stated more specifically in law that speeds in excess of 30km per hour and 40km per hour, where applicable, would be prosecuted.

Mr Motsatsing stated that jurisdiction lay with the magistrate who might make a determination before looking at the matter in the context of speeds traveled.

Mr Sefularo asked if there was a provision in the pilot project that was not provided for in the National Road Traffic Act, which may hamper applicability and prevent facilitation of the process.

Mr Motsatsing explained that the legal framework came from the National Road Traffic Act, with regard to the offences and contraventions.  The process of demerit points had been unpacked so that regulations could be developed around those demerit points.

The Chairperson asked it the Magistrates had been instructed to impose appropriate sentences.

Mr Motsatsing concurred that this was so..

Mr Mogale stated that he had not seen the 30km and 40km speed limits. 

The Chairperson said that the legislation was now providing more specifically for the 30km and 40km per hour speed limits.

Mr Motsatsing said that the cars of MECs and Ministers were not exempted from complying with the NRTA, but the driver of that vehicle was exempted from the provision.

The Chairperson asked if there was a broader definition of the exempted drivers who fell under this provision.

Mr Sefularo expressed concern about exemption of drivers. He believed that it should be clear to members of the public that drivers of cars of public officials were exempted from certain provisions and limitations. He warned that public office bearers could be arrogant and reckless and endanger the public.

Mr Motsatsing stated there was a need to publicise who was exempt, to make sure the public understood, because the MEC’s vehicle was a ministerial vehicle although it would not be the Minister behind the wheel. He agreed that there was a need for accurate media coverage on this matter.

The Chairperson pointed out that Clause 16 of the Bill was actually effectively broadening the category to include drivers of VIP vehicles. This was not merely inclusion of all persons with official badges. Some reference must be made to exemptions for the purpose of certain operational requirements.

Mr Mashile asked what happened to doctors who had surgeries outside of hospitals and drove their personal cars to attend to emergency situations.

The Chairperson stated the need to create a waiver for emergency situations, and said that this issue would be flagged for further attention later in the meeting.

Mr Motsatsing noted that the current Act currently made reference to the driver of the motor vehicle, and the operator was supposed to ensure roadworthy conditions of that vehicle, such as ensuring that there was no overloading. The Bill now wished to extend any charges for breaching the conditions also to the operators and not only to the drivers.

Mr Sefularo said that the word “operators” had commercial connotations. The private owner was separate from the driver, and would not be liable. 

The Chairperson stated that words like ‘manager’ or ‘consigner’ were being used, rather than ‘operator’. The driver might not be personally liable if given an instruction, so the consigner must take responsibility.

Mr Motsatsing said that if, in terms of the provision, the offence referred to the vehicle itself, the driver would not be charged for that offence, as it would remain the responsibility of the owner.

Mr Motsatsing said that Clause 21 was addressing a process, where previously the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) was used for standard-setting. The problem was that any amendment to a standard became a regulation in terms of the Act. The Department wished to ensure that if SABS changed the standard it would not automatically become a regulation in terms of the legislation until such time as the Department of Transport had seen the standard and ratified it.

Mr Motsatsing noted that when the NRT Act was promulgated, some of the guiding Acts were not yet in operation. At that stage the provisions of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act were included, to provide for guidelines. 

Mr Motsatsing further referred to clause 23, in terms of which the MEC had the power to exempt a motor vehicle and the loads of motor vehicles.  In terms of the standards, the responsibility for granting exemptions on the load would rest with the Minister. Responsibility for the loads would remain with the MECs.

Mr Mashile stated that the new issues raised had not referred to the transitional  provisions.

The Chairperson said that these were consequential amendments and would be dealt with in the future.

Mr Motsatsing said that in terms of the legal framework, the NRT Acts of 1989 and 1996, provisions had been referred to the MEC. When the Road Traffic Management Corporation Act was implemented, the process was streamlined. Where there was reference to shareholders, committees or boards or agencies, then the powers initially vested in the provinces were transferred to the agencies. Currently the NRT Act referred to a shareholder’s committee, and the provisions could only be enacted when the transitional arrangements had been sorted out.

The Chairperson returned to the issues that been flagged.

Mr Mashile asked what the position was regarding exemptions from certain speed limits for doctors operating their own private vehicles in emergencies. He thought that there was a need to make provision for emergencies.

The Chairperson said the amendment to Section 15 did refer to an emergency medical response vehicle. A definition had to be provided which would  be broad enough to include different types of emergencies and situations.

Mr Motsatsing responded that a definition could be problematic if extended to doctors and nurses It had to be stipulated what their vehicles must have – for instance certain kinds of emergency lights. 

The Chairperson said that it must be ensured that there was mobility to allow people to act accordingly. The private vehicle would have to be recognised as an emergency vehicle when being used under certain circumstances.

Mr Motsatsing reiterated that the provisions would need to be made clear, to ascertain the core requirements for medical personnel using emergency vehicles.

Mr Sefularo asked if there was a provision for the international conversion of driving licences.

Mr Motsatsing responded that such a provision existed, which allowed for recognition of international licenses or foreign licences. The clauses had been unpacked for conversion categories, so that conversion could take place if permanent residence status has been granted.

Mr Sefularo asked if there were provisions regarding competencies and powers.

Mr Motsatsing replied that in terms of the NRTA, key powers could not be devolved to local authorities, and provinces did not deal with implementation, only with the process that needed to be followed.

Mr Motsatsing added that all powers had to be consolidated. Effective Implementation would require an institution to consolidate all powers.  Engagement had to happen at shareholder level to ensure that the process of transition could be implemented.

Mr Sefularo stated that if left out, it might be too late to realise the objectives, but if the matter was left in the principal Act the oppportunity existed to realise the objectives at a later stage.

Mr Motsatsing said that the DoT was missing the opportunity to accomplish this. Within the amendment there was an attempt to streamline the process and to give it to an institution to implement, but the Constitution did not allow the DoT to do this on its own. There was a need to sign a resolution which stated that those powers were being given to an agency.

The Chairperson asked if it was indicated where one could apply for driver’s licenses.

Mr Mogale raised the issue of regulating the conduct of traffic officers and asked what was being regulated in this regard.

Mr Mashile said that some people were sleeping at testing stations overnight to ensure that they were first in the queue the next day. He questioned the capacities at testing stations to deal with people and the capacity to deal with corruption.

The Chairperson said the problem had been noted and restrictions could not be imposed on applicants facing the problem of not being able to get a place. The solution lay with the provision of services and the delivery of services so as to remove corruption. 

Mr Motsatsing said that the responsibility of setting up a testing station lay with the municipality. There was a levying of a 30% transaction fee with the intention of pumping money back into the contact point. One of the projects of the DoT was to implement a best practice model to enhance service delivery at those centres. National Treasury had to be convinced in terms of the utilisation of those funds, because Treasury was asserting that the funds can only be utilised for related transactions.

The Chairperson said that one of the challenges was to get money back into the municipality as there seemed to be a provincial layer to deal with as well.  There was also a set of challenges around non-compliance, which had to be dealt with. 

Mr Motsatsing said that finances were required for adequate testing.

Mr Mashile said that Section 7(3) was not covered adequately.

The Chairperson asked if this could be flagged for attention in the next meeting.

The Chairperson said that the objectives of the Bill would be considered to ensure that these were being translated properly into the legislation. A broad sense was provided of the major issues. The next meeting would deal with specific qualifications of traffic officers and the regulations derived through parliament.

The Chairperson said that Parliament gave away legislative powers so that the regulations could be adopted. Parliament, however, must be vigilant about how much power it was giving away, as the public should be allowed to comment.

The meeting was adjourned.

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