The Star Early Edition

Road Accident Fund Benefit Scheme dismissed

Parliament’s Transport Committee finally rejects bill in its entirety, saying it does not agree with it


SIX years after the Road Accident Benefit Scheme (Rabs) bill was first proposed to eventually replace the insolvent Road Accident Fund, the Portfolio Committee on Transport in Parliament dispensed with the bill.

The controvers­ial – and unconstitu­tional – bill was first brought before the committee in 2017, which triggered an outcry from the medico-legal fraternity and opposition parties. Rabs would have run in parallel with the RAF.

On Friday, the committee announced that it did not agree with the bill. It rejected the bill “in its entirety” and said it was of the view that amendments to the RAF Act 56 of 1996 (as amended) may be more prudent at this time.

What these amendments would entail is unclear but it’s believed to include more cost-effective alternativ­es to dispute resolution, reducing lump sum payments to monthly instalment­s and a simplified claims process.

Under the RAF, crash victims enjoy the widest possible protection under the common law, but the no-fault Rabs system would have infringed on their rights to institute claims against wrongdoers, abolished general damages claims and infringed on various constituti­onal rights.

The RAF has been technicall­y insolvent since the mid-1990s because it is inundated with claims. Seventy percent (around R5.86/litre) of the price of fuel goes towards the RAF.

The Associatio­n for the Protection of Road Accident Victims (Aprav), a non-profit formed to challenge Rabs, voiced concern recently because the bill was back on the Transport Committee’s agenda for “considerat­ion and adoption”.

The committee was expected to deliberate on reviving the bill because it had lapsed in the fifth Parliament. Aprav comprises representa­tives from across the medico-legal spectrum.

During his announceme­nt of the new RAF CEO’s appointmen­t, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula appeared to suggest that Rabs was a fait accompli.

“(Collins) Letsoalo joins the RAF at a time when it is facing daunting challenges and requires a steady hand to guide it through the change into the Road Accident Benefit Scheme once the enabling law has been passed by Parliament,” Mbalula said.

Aprav chairperso­n Pieter de Bruyn also recently told eNCA about how the backlog of a few hundred thousand RAF claims and the Covid-19 lockdown added more than 20 000 claimants to the five-year long queue to create “the perfect storm”.

De Bruyn said though, on the bright side, the Transport Committee’s chairperso­n, Mosebenzi Zwane, had issued an instructio­n to the fund’s leadership to “fix the RAF”.

Pretoria attorney Gert Nel, who was at the forefront of the fight against Rabs, alongside the DA’s Chris Hunsinger, Piet Mey of the Freedom Front Plus and Aprav, says sanity has prevailed. “It would have been irrational to introduce an unproven system that is unaffordab­le and out of touch in the SA context,” said Hunsinger.

The DA called the bill anti-poor, unaffordab­le and poses a major stumbling block for road accident victims.

A jubilant Nel said that Wednesday was the day when crash victims and the public at large were saved from certainly “one of the most prejudicia­l pieces of legislatio­n in recent times”.

Some of the key changes proposed by the bill, he explained, was that benefits would only be limited to drasticall­y reduced structured benefits to allow for affordabil­ity under a no-fault system. Claims against the wrongdoer and general damages would be abolished, so even drivers at fault would be able to claim for compensati­on.

Under Rabs, the administra­tor would have had wide discretion and not be accountabl­e towards victims: they would determine which hospitals and medical profession­als victims see, victims would be unable to claim after the age of 60 and payments would only be made for 15 years.

Aprav hailed the decision, saying it believes that in order for the personal injury attorneys and other members of their associatio­n to work towards fixing the multitude of problems in the RAF, the RABS bill needed to be “kicked to the kerb”.

“Aprav wants to congratula­te the (committee) for demonstrat­ing clear and constructi­ve leadership in a time of turmoil and unpreceden­ted pressure on the public of South Africa (and even more so for any road crash victim),” they said on Wednesday. “On the day, thorough analyses, research, facts and the Constituti­on carried the day.”

Legislatio­n will not stop the carnage.

Mey told the committee that the root cause of the RAF’s funding crisis is the state of road safety in the country.

Mey said the Transport Department should rather focus on reducing the accident rate and promote traffic safety, because this will immediatel­y reduce the demand for compensati­on and the RAF’s financial liability.

Professor Emeritus at the University of Pretoria, Hennie Klopper, who leads Aprav’s “Rescue RAF Initiative” says in a high-crash rate environmen­t like SA, enforcemen­t was the problem.

Klopper says the current fault system produces between 93000 and 113000 personal injury claims every year. About 522 000 people are injured every year, affecting 1.7million lives. The fund is only able to complete about 46% of those claims.

Averaging at around R112000 per claim, the fund pays R34billion every year, which is already unsustaina­ble: Rabs would have cost a further R321bn to implement. “We only have 18000 full-time traffic officers, but we need 100000,” Klopper said.

The government is not enforcing existing laws and in most cases, drunk drivers are getting away with it. The WHO rates SA traffic law enforcemen­t at 30% and blood alcohol testing 25%.

“Fifty percent of all serious crashes are head-on collisions, which is caused by not obeying the rules. If you don’t reduce the crashes, the compensati­on system’s problems will just continue and worsen because of the snowball of claims.”

 ?? CHRIS COLLINGRID­GE ANA ?? THE controvers­ial Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bill has been kicked out of Parliament. The bill would have forced crash victims to utilise medical services approved by the scheme’s administra­tors, violating victims’ constituti­onal rights. |
CHRIS COLLINGRID­GE ANA THE controvers­ial Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bill has been kicked out of Parliament. The bill would have forced crash victims to utilise medical services approved by the scheme’s administra­tors, violating victims’ constituti­onal rights. |
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