Parliament’s transport committee is holding public hearings throughout the country on the changes to the claims process and system in the bill, which is intended to replace the RAF Act and aims to improve the administration of benefits and payouts to accident victims.
The bill in its current form is expected to provide for a social security scheme for the road accident victims or their families, in terms of which payments will be made directly to claimants on a monthly basis and not a lump sum as previously administered. Payments will also be made directly to medical and health-care providers.
The Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bill will see the establishment of an administrator to implement the scheme and also proposes 'no-fault' compensation, meaning road accident victims can claim, irrespective of who was at fault in an accident.
On Wednesday the majority of the 200 people who attended the committee’s meeting at the Uvongo Town Hall voiced their grievances about the delay in payouts and the red tape they had to endure to lodge their claims. Some even said they were duped by unscrupulous lawyers who “ran off” with their payouts by charging them exorbitant legal fees or by not disclosing the full amount paid out to them.
Committee chairwoman Dikeledi Magadzi said what was “most glaring” from the public hearings was that people were attending in the hope that they would be able to fast-track their claims or get guidance on how to process their claim.
“There are very few that are speaking to the bill," she said. "Most are those unsure of who to turn to for assistance with their claims.
"In that regard, we have brought along Road Accident Fund officials to help them after the hearings,” Magadzi said, adding that most of those who spoke about the bill were in support of it.
The proposed bill and public hearings were fast-tracked after the RAF came under heavy criticism for alleged maladministration, with the most recent allegation that the fund had splurged R500 000 a month on renting 300 chairs for their offices.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse has called on the Treasury to conduct a full independent inquiry into the RAF. A group called the Freedom Movement, which included Outa, the DA, Freedom Front Plus and other organisations, held a march against the rising fuel price this week, calling for a reduction in both the RAF fuel levy and the general fuel levy.
Outa’s transport portfolio manager, Rudie Heyneke, said that in the past 10 years or so there had been a 300 percent increase in the RAF fuel levy. By placing the RAF under independent administration, the government could start tackling the fund’s R160 billion backlog in unpaid claims.
Speaking at the hearing on Wednesday, Philani Mkhize, of Mkhize PR Attorneys in Durban, said that lawyers were at fault.
“There’s this thing called a handler’s fee," he said. "There is no regulation around it and people are being left without a cent paying these special handler’s fees. “The problem is within the RAF. There is lots of corruption taking place, so there is no use coming with a bill now until those problems are sorted out.”
Prince Mkhonza said the issue with overlooking who was at fault in an accident when processing claims would result in more drivers being reckless, knowing that if they were at fault it would not pose a problem when claiming from the RAF.
'It will not benefit the poor'
Approached for comment, the president of the Black Lawyers Association, Lutendo Sigogo, said the proposed scheme, if passed, would not benefit the poor and they did not support the bill. He said the monthly payments would not be compensation for damages suffered but would only serve to replace a person’s income due to their injuries sustained in an accident.
He said that unemployed people would receive a set amount monthly regardless of whether they were graduates waiting to be employed.
“They are not taking into account the potential that a person would have if they were not involved in the accident," he said. "The amount they receive will also continue for the rest of their lives without inflation.”
Sigogo added that while hospitals and medical experts would be paid directly, the RAF would pay a fixed amount which would mean injured people could only go to specific public hospitals for treatment.
“These are only some of the things that we do not agree with," he said. "This bill takes away compensation for pain and suffering.”
He claimed the bill was intended to have a negative impact on the legal fraternity but he doubted that would be the case as he foresaw many cases which would be unable to be settled out of court.
“The way this system is being changed, they will be bombarded by legal action.”