Is the no-fault system the way for South Africa to go when it comes to road accidents? File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA
Johannesburg - The Road Accident Fund is dead. Long live the Road Accident Benefit Scheme.

If the ANC and Transport Department have their way - which is likely - the RABS bill will be replacing the RAF by the 2019 general elections, if not sooner.

On Tuesday, there’s likely to be heated debate in Parliament, because the major opposition parties - including the DA, IFP, ACDP and EFF - are united against the RABS, but the ANC appears hell-bent on pushing it through.

It’s not good news for motorists, or crash victims.

In May, Professor Hennie Klopper, who leads the Association of the Protection of Road Accident Victims, told the parliamentary committee on transport that South Africa’s road death statistics are a war zone.

He said that in March 1 241 people died in the Syrian war. In South Africa, 1 200 died on the roads. “We have too many accidents. It’s already costing the country the equivalent of about three SAA bailouts every year.”

Klopper and others observe that instead of changing the law, there should be better enforcement on our roads to prevent crashes.

On November 8, the DA released a scathing minority report, saying the RABS is bad for the country and terrible for crash victims and their families.

It’s the most extensive change to social security policy since Sassa and yet it’s based on one actuarial report that’s not peer-reviewed; the costs are uncertain; and it’s being rushed through the National Assembly.

Opponents argue why replace it when you can fix it? But the Transport Committee claims the RABS will be cheaper, more efficient and will cut out personal injury lawyers, who milk the system.

And yet the DA and lobby groups - including the Quadriplegic Association of SA, private hospital groups and insurance houses - believe the no-fault system gives permission for drunk driving as drivers are not required to prove whose fault an accident is; both the guilty and innocent parties can claim.

Opponents are concerned that the RABS will abolish the right to general damages claims; limit claims for children, victims older than 60 and foreigners to emergency medical care; cap funeral expenses at R10 000; terminate benefits on the death of the beneficiary (leaving the defendants destitute); cap claims for loss of income support; offer no cover for victims whose annual income exceeds R219 820; cease paying support benefits after 15 years; and exclude foster children from benefiting.

The DA report says regulating the current exploitation of victims within the RAF can be done, with minor amendments to the current act.

“As such, the DA is convinced that the current financial constraints experienced in the fund can/should be addressed by amendments to the RAF Act and by introducing management corrections and financial discipline rather than replacement by the RABS.”

It has called for a review of the claims process and identified poor management as the cause of the RAF’s demise, such as the appointment of over 500 staff in one financial year.

“Staff appointments should coincide with training and capacity-building support. Elements which come into question when one discovers that, despite huge employment expansion, claim processing is being subcontracted to service providers like Med-Scheme and Forbes.”

The party said it objected to the RABS in its current form, based on the narrowing down of benefits and the objective to save money in the wrong place.

In particular, it’s raised concern about the constitutionality of the bill because it's not an improved social security scheme for crash victims; the financials of the RABS are not proven, affordable, sustainable or workable; the proposed dual-system of the RABS and the RAF is not explained or fiscally possible (the two schemes would have to operate simultaneously for at least two decades and require at least a doubling of the fuel levy); and that public health care, on which the bill will be solely reliant, is already over-burdened.

It also believes that the “no fault” system, which is being punted as fairer, “serves an obvious role of lowering the fund’s liability to compensate victims”.

In addition, it says the bill’s requirement that the administrator - the scheme - will be able to insist where the victim will receive medical treatment. “Given the personal nature of medical treatment, having an unwanted, or even unchosen, practitioner forced upon a victim would clearly amount to an impairment of their dignity.”

During the public participation process in nine provinces undertaken in the middle of 2018, only 981 people attended and 242 submitted verbal input. Of those, 33 were in favour of the RABS, 81 were not, and 26 called for the RAF to be amended.

The 2002 Satchwell Commission was scathing about the RAF’s management in its report, saying: “Since the establishment of the RAF the stewardship of the scheme of road accident compensation has left much to be desired: there has been a passive board uncritical of the management and administration of the scheme; an arrogant management unresponsive to concerns and criticisms of the road- using public; and an ignorant and apathetic consumer base which (failed) to hold government, the board and the RAF management accountable.

“The RAF has ‘functioned’ for many years without attempting to identify and acknowledge the people it is supposed to serve, with the result that there has been no appreciation of the need for the concept of service to be at the core of (its) operations.”

Increasing efficiencies at the RAF is a no-brainer: the system’s clearly not working. That doesn’t mean we need new legislation, or to double the fuel levy. And saddling the country with additional social and financial burdens for decades to come is likely to harm, not help, an already weak economy.

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.