Aarto: right royal mess

South Africans can relax for a few more weeks. The government recently announced that the implementation of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) system would again be delayed. In this opinion piece, GERHARD HORN says Aarto is a complete mess.

The reason for the delay is claimed to be the World Cup, although this really doesn’t make any sense. This event didn’t suddenly sneak up on us; we knew about it four years ago. And why would the World Cup impact on Aarto? Maybe it would have been difficult to collect fines from tourists after they had left the country; apart from that I cannot see how this sporting event could have made a difference. Perhaps the World Cup was just an excuse? After all, it’s easier to blame something else than admitting you messed up in the first place.

The fact of the matter is that Aarto has been haunted by faults since the beginning. Many people wondered if eNaTIS could carry the burden that Aarto would inevitably load onto it. The reason put forward for the system was that it would make the administration and adjunction of fines easier. But surely we don’t make things easier by using more complicated procedures that most people won’t understand in the first place? Have you ever looked at the Aarto proposal? You’ll receive a letter, then another letter you have to pay for, then a final letter and then somebody kicks down your door and takes your television.

Let’s assume for a moment that Aarto is a great idea. It’s difficult to argue that its intentions are not laudable. If implemented successfully the government will be able to eliminate dangerous drivers from the roads. Repeat offenders will quickly reach the 12-point maximum and their licenses will be revoked. Monetary fines are quickly paid for and forgotten, but taking somebody’s license away is a harsh lesson, not easily forgotten. This should, in theory, sort out the lawless attitude on our roads.

Sometime last year a pilot phase of Aarto was implemented in Johannesburg and Pretoria. The demerits given did not count as the initial run was only meant to see if Aarto could actually work. It didn’t. Problems included inefficient handling of payments, unlawful collection of fine payments and wrongful distribution of fines. It was expected to result in a loss of millions for the government.

The National Metropolitan Police Chiefs Forum sent a report to the minister of transport, urging him not to implement Aarto countrywide before these serious problems were addressed.

In January 2010, the Transport Minister, Sibusiso Ndebele, admitted that they still had some problems to iron out. The result of this was the first delay in the implementation of Aarto in some provinces. At the time he called the issues “minor” and said that it would still be up and running during 2010.

Yet the problems he cited do not seem to qualify as “minor” ones. He revealed that 675 881 fines were issued during the pilot phase in Pretoria and that 31 240 had to be cancelled because of paperwork. Some fines were even cancelled because a fine was not issued within 40 days of the transgression.

A critical turning point was reached in late June 2010. In early June the Western Cape MEC for Transport, Robin Carlisle, had expressed concern about implementing the system there before all the problems were ironed out. The MEC and the City of Cape Town made numerous attempts to bring this to the attention of the Presidency, but to no avail. With no avenues left, the MEC and the City of Cape Town threatened legal action if Aarto were to be forced on them. This action was dropped after the announcement of the second delay to the roll out of Aarto.

Rob Handfield-Jones, managing director of driving.co.za and the most vocal authority on the subject, makes some interesting points on the issue. “This is what happens when the Minister of Transport ignores the numerous warnings that it was currently not implementable. Now they have to rescind a notice in the Government Gazette and pay for the lawyers, scribes, printers, etc, all at vast cost to the taxpayers. The majority of our country’s problems have an identical solution: appoint ministers with demonstrated competence or qualifications in the portfolio.”

At the time of writing no new date had been announced for implementation. Let’s hope that, when it does come round again, it will at least be functional. The mistakes have been too widely publicised for this to happen again. If these officials don’t sort this out properly they could be looking at legal action from all nine provinces, instead of just one.

• Gerhard Horn is the 2010 South African Guild of Motoring Journalists bursar. As such, he is interning at various media members countrywide. He recently spent a month at FOCUS and, during his internship at this magazine, penned this piece.

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