Massive response to proposed Aarto amendments
There has been a massive response to the proposed changes to the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Act to include e-toll infringements.
In December, the Department of Transport published a Gazette (#39482) in a bid to make the amendments to the Act, and yesterday was the last day for the public to submit comments on the changes.
Aarto is only in force in the operational areas of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department and the Tshwane Metro Police Department. Elsewhere in SA, the Criminal Procedure Act applies. On its Web site, Aarto says under Aarto, no warrants of arrests "will ever result from an infringement notice".
The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) says the main purpose of the proposed amendments to Aarto is to accommodate the inclusion of outstanding e-toll bills into the normal traffic fine and violations process.
In a statement issued this morning, Outa says it tracked over 117 000 submissions from members of the public responding to the proposed amendments of the Act.
This is arguably the largest number of submissions ever received by government to proposed legislation amendments, Outa says. The public will no doubt look forward to receiving feedback from the authorities on their inclusion of these submissions into their decision, it adds.
Unlike petitions, the NPO says Gazette comments have a critical role in the constitutional process and cannot be ignored by government, as it would open the door for a legal challenge by civil society.
"This overwhelming public participation to a Gazette is an indication of growing active citizenry on a grand scale. It is also another major step in the fight against government's efforts to coerce motorists into paying e-tolls, and is likely to stop government from being able to allege that such amendments are only opposed by a few people who have a problem with e-tolls, as they did with the declaration of the Gauteng freeways as toll roads."
Through various amendments to the Aarto Act and in media releases, Outa notes government has made it clear it is gearing up to use the Aarto Act and the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA) to collect outstanding e-toll fines and debt.
By doing so, the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) - through the RTIA - will attempt to coerce motorists into compliance by withholding vehicle licences, drivers' licences and drivers' permits for non-payment of e-tolls, it points out.
If the proposed amendments are signed into law, non-payment of e-tolls will be deemed a violation of section 58(1) of the National Road Traffic Act, ie, failure to obey a traffic sign instructing a motorist to pay tolls. Infringement notices will be sent to motorists via normal mail, e-mail or SMS - previously infringement notices had to be sent via registered post.
All documentation sent by the RTIA will be deemed to have been received by the motorist within 10 days of having been sent.
Outa says even if a motorist does not receive any of the documents and fails to settle these payments and fines, an enforcement order will be issued against the motorist together with an automatic instruction to block the issuing of any motor vehicle licence, driver's licence or professional driver's permit.
Meanwhile, Sanral has moved to clarify its position relating to the amendments.
Vusi Mona, GM of communications at Sanral, argues: "Failure to pay tolls has been an infringement under the Aarto legislation since 2008. To leave the impression, as Outa does, that the regulatory changes to the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act proposed in the Government Gazette on 7 December are new, is completely off the mark."
He adds: "What the changes do mean, though, is positive for motorists - the only amendment to provisions relating to toll infringements is the removal of the demerit points for the failure to comply with a toll sign."
In response to Mona, Outa says: "If Mr Mona believes this warning is misplaced or unlikely, just as Sanral believed prior to the civil disobedience campaign against e-tolls, he clearly has still not realised the extent and the power of the people."
"If government follows through with these ludicrous amendments, we will be ready to challenge them. When this happens, the merits of the legality of e-tolls can once and for all be tested in a court of law, and Sanral will not be able to escape the arguments that need to be heard in a collateral challenge, which will obviate the technicalities in administrative law, which allowed them to escape the last time. They will then have to answer to the numerous transgressions and irrationalities of an unworkable system," says Wayne Duvenage, chairperson of Outa.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) says it submitted its objections to the gazetted amendments to the Aarto Act yesterday.
The opposition party adds: "To publish this Gazette during the festive season and to provide a deadline at such short notice is simply unacceptable and demonstrates that the Department of Transport has little regard for democratic processes and real public participation."
The DA will also write to the minister of transport, Dipuo Peters, to request the deadline for public comment be extended, to give South Africans the appropriate time they deserve to be able to submit their objections to the e-tolling systems that have been forced on them, says the DA.
"It is clear that these amendments are being pushed through as a direct consequence of the e-tolls failure; criminal punishment for the motorist is being threatened to cover up these failures," it concludes.