Lawyer: Civil rights organisations need to get involved in proposed RABS bill before it’s too late

10 May 2018 Kirstie Haslam, DSC Attorneys
Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys.

Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys.

Short notice of public hearings to push RABS bill through.

The Portfolio Committee on Transport has, on very short notice announced it will be holding so-called “public hearings” commencing on 15 May, regarding the intended introduction of RABS despite concerted opposition to the intended scheme. Lawyers are calling on all concerned civil rights organisations to become involved before it’s too late.

This is according to Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys, who has been actively involved in parliamentary debate surrounding the proposed ‘no fault’ public insurance Road Accident Benefit Scheme (RABS) bill that is now before parliament as a replacement for the current Road Accident Fund (RAF), which will greatly reduce the compensation provided to road accident victims and their dependants.

She says that broadly, any organisation which is remotely concerned with the welfare of persons suffering with disabilities as a result of being injured in a road accident needs to get involved.

“Childrens’ rights groups in particular are important role-players, as well as organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Human Rights Institute of South Africa, the South African Spinal Cord Association (SASCA), the South African Neurological Rehabilitation Association (SANRA), the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) and other similar / related organisations,” she explains.

She points out that the involvement of civil rights organisations can help with regard to stopping the implementation of the proposed scheme without due consideration of the long term implications for South African road users. “These groups can present compelling personal and independent insights into the dramatic impact which the reduction of benefits associated with RABS will have on those affected by road accidents.”

The hearings are presently intended to take place on various days between 16 and 31 May 2018, at Parliament (the specific venue(s) have not yet been announced). Haslam says that there will be various presentations and submissions by the Department of Transport and various stakeholders to the Portfolio Committee on Transport.

The public hearings are a required procedural step in the process of getting a Bill enacted. Haslam stresses that it is possibly the last chance for people and organisations impacted by the intended changes to the legislation to make their voices heard as to how the new dispensation will affect the ordinary man in the street who may become a victim of a road accident in future.

Haslam says that it is inconceivable that the bill will go ahead despite the concerted opposition regarding the intended scheme. “Written submissions have previously been made by various stakeholders who have been carefully monitoring the parliamentary process,” she says. “These include the Law Society of South Africa, the Legal Resource Centre, Section 27, the South African Insurance Association (SAIA), SATAWU, the Association for the Protection of Road Accident Victims (APRAV), the South African Clinical Neuropsychology Association, and other individuals and organisations.”

She points out that those not keeping a careful eye on the process are in all probability completely unaware of the impending public hearings.

South Africa’s road fatality statistics are amongst the highest in the world. According to The Road Traffic Management Corporation State of Road Safety Report, 14 050 people died on local roads in 2017 and this year is looking worse. Just over the 2018 Easter period, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande announced that 510 people died on the country’s roads between March 29 and April 9 – a 14% increase on last year’s figure.

With that in mind, Haslam says that the unfortunate truth is that any citizen has a reasonable prospect of being involved in at least one motor vehicle accident during their lifetime, possibly leading to serious injury or death.

“The proposed drastic reduction of benefits and the introduction of a complex administrative process to even gain access to those limited benefits is, within this context, unthinkable and cannot be supported.”

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