WRONG MOVE: The Western Cape government says a national traffic service is a huge mistake and won't work in SA.Image: iStock
Cape Town - The City's mayoral committee member for safety and security Alderman JP Smith and the Western Cape MEC for transport and public works, Donald Grant has put out a joint statement about the proposed national traffic service.
Below is the full opinion of the two entities.
Alderman JP Smith and MEC Donald Grant: "The simple facts are that the proposal is a clear violation of the Constitution and seeks to encroach on the powers of local government and that the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town will apply to court to challenge this breach of the Constitution.
In fact, we would estimate that several other metro municipalities will make similar court and Constitutional challenges to prevent the powers of their local authorities being undermined. Not only is the proposal by the National Minister a violation of the Constitution, but it also violates the powers bestowed on local government by the National Land Transportation Act (NLTA).
It would not be the first time that we have had to take legal action to stop bad planning and legislation by the National Government. We were compelled to take similar action to stop the flawed implementation of AARTO which had had a crippling effect on traffic enforcement in Gauteng, followed by a reduction in road safety and an increase in road fatalities.
By contrast, the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government, which had therefore escaped the implementation of AARTO, were able to stabilise road fatalities and in some years even reduce these deaths. Recent newspaper reports indicated that other cities such as Tshwane and Johannesburg have started to question AARTO as well and have indicated that they no longer want to operate subject to the Act as it is incapacitating effective traffic enforcement.
The Minister is also completely wrong in her assertions that the establishment of a national traffic service will remove fragmented and ineffective traffic enforcement. We would argue that the establishment of a national traffic service will not reduce fragmentation. One sees the fragmentation and the lack of communication and information sharing between different South African Police Service (SAPS) police stations, which are run as a national policing service.
There is no evidence to suggest that centralising traffic enforcement will improve it. In fact, our experience with policing strongly suggests the contrary, which is why many are opposing the single police service being proposed by National Government as well. It will make traffic enforcement less accountable and less responsive to communities. What does the management of a national traffic service sitting in Pretoria know of traffic problems in Nelson Mandela Bay or Cape Town?
'Dysfunctional criminal justice system'
I would also argue that a national traffic service will not improve efficiency of enforcement. Traffic enforcement is ineffective not because of the enforcement actions of traffic and Metro Police officers primarily, but rather because of the dysfunctional criminal justice system run by National Government. The lack of capacity and resources available to the (municipal) courts, which are run by National Government, causes large numbers of cases to be withdrawn and warrants of arrest not to be signed.
Weak sentences are imposed and cases too often dismissed or fines reduced by magistrates and prosecutors. Fine payment rates across the country are appallingly low (keeping in mind that the City of Cape Town has the highest fine repayment rate in South Africa) and the introduction of a national traffic service will not change this. Most likely it will just level down the outcomes to the lowest levels in South Africa.
More courts and staff needed
The National Minister would do better to reduce the weaknesses in the criminal justice system by increasing the number of (municipal traffic) courts, adding more staff to these courts, getting courts to sit on more days, and even establishing night courts. Instead, the Minister introduced a change in legislation that prevented municipalities from giving fines to people exceeding the speed limit by more than 30km/h, compelling these cases to appear in already over-crowded courts.
The experience in the City of Cape Town is that the courts threw more than 90% of the cases out as they simply did not have the capacity to hear the vastly increased number of cases which would previously have been given fines. So, in the end, the most reckless drivers got off scot-free while the minor offenders still had to pay fines.
More road deaths
This travesty of justice underscores the old adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. While the Minister may mean well, the outcome will be bad for South Africa and will achieve, like AARTO and new speed laws, impoverished traffic enforcement and more road deaths.
As for moving traffic enforcement to a 24-hour shift, this is likely an empty promise as neither the Minister nor the RTMC has funding to appoint the numbers of traffic officers across South Africa to achieve round-the-clock traffic enforcement. The City of Cape Town already has a skeleton staff at night and is gradually moving more and more staff to a shift system to achieve 24-hour coverage, while the Western Cape Provincial Traffic Services already operates on a 24-hour shift system.
The Minister is wrong in her suggestion that a national traffic service will avoid a ‘duplication of services’ and ‘lack of integration’. The reality is that the move, aside from the legal opposition, will lead to a protracted period of labour disputes and legal tussles around trying to establish single conditions of employment from among the diverse employment conditions of the various municipalities. Placing any service under the control of National Government does not guarantee integration and prevent duplication. Anybody who has tried to resolve any matter with the Department of Home Affairs or any other national department will know exactly what I mean. It weakens accountability by placing control in the hands of decision-makers who are out of the reach of residents to hold them accountable.
SA Road death crisis
The Minister refers to international best practice, which in fact shows that control should be gravitated to the sphere of government closest to delivery and closest to the people: local government.
As for the training academy, the City and Western Cape Government both have accredited training academies and are capable of training qualified traffic officers on the relevant legislation and these colleges are capable of training officers of the highest calibre.
The one area where we agree with the Minister is that road traffic accidents and deaths have become a crisis and the situation has to be improved urgently. The Minister is right that the old methods will not achieve results, but she misunderstands where those changes are needed. Her first priority should be the improvement of the courts and laws to ensure that there are consequences for violating traffic laws. The crisis at the moment has less to do with the issuing of fines and physical enforcement and more with the lack of consequences for receiving such a fine. This is where the Minister should be applying her energies and focus.
The bottom line is that the Minister is proposing something that is not in the interest of the country and which will not improve road safety. It is unconstitutional and unlawful and will be opposed fiercely by several cities and the Western Cape Government. The proposal of a national traffic service is just another example of national government’s obsession with centralisation and flies in the face of the quasi-federalist nature of the Constitution, not unlike the fiendish plans of subordinating the Metro Police to SAPS and National Government."