Stealth Tax Pending?

Recently-published draft regulations of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act make a mockery of the claim that the law is intended to improve road safety in South Africa, and rather point to the creation of a mechanism to improve revenue collection. That’s the view of the Automobile Association (AA) on the draft regulations issued on October 2, in particular an issue first raised in October 2019 – the R100 Infringement Penalty Levy (IPL) charged in addition to the fine amount on every infringement notice issued. The AA says this levy will extract a billion Rand per ten million infringement notices issued, for functions already being performed by the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA).

“This is a disproportionate, sweeping and unjust draft regulation and is similar to having someone pay a fee to submit their tax returns; it’s an ultimately unfair surcharge for a function that is already paid for through traffic fine revenue,” the AA notes.

The portion of the 2019 Act that made this possible was enacted without explanation of its intent, which the 2020 draft regulations have now made clear. However, confusion remains as to whether this amount will be repaid if a successful representation is made to cancel the entire fine. The AA says people’s rights are on the line, and unless the public raises its concerns the regulations will become law and these rights will be infringed. “The quiet implementation of a multi-billion Rand stealth tax is an outrageous addition to the regulations. We urge the Department of Transport to remove it – it is neither just nor necessary and is, in our view, an example of the Road Traffic Infringement Agency, which administers AARTO, encroaching on the National Treasury’s fiscal territory.”

Another area which the AA believes infringes on citizens’ rights is the removal of the requirement to have detailed information to appear on infringement notices, the return to the use of ordinary mail to send some infringement notices, and the proposal for authorities to have 60 instead of 40 days to send infringement notices after an infringement has allegedly taken place. It says people have a right to know how they infringed in a detailed manner – that’s now done away with. It says people have a right to the swift administration of justice – the 60 day period disregards this, and, finally, it notes that people have a right to be informed that the State alleges they have committed a traffic violation.

“The original architects of AARTO took note of the problems with postal delivery of traffic fines and realised that registered mail achieves reliable service of these notices. The return to ordinary mail is regressive and inexplicable, and these changes combine to create the impression that the current draft regulations have not been thought through carefully enough, and are designed to actually actively hinder citizens’ and their rights,” the AA says.

The AA says the regulations will make it as difficult as possible to understand and comply with the law, encouraging citizens to simply just pay to resolve the matter quickly, even if they have legitimate contestations. “This all supports our interpretation that these regulations are geared towards generating revenue and are not genuinely seeking to improve conditions on our roads. The traffic law should deter motorists from non-compliance and punish offenders in a fair, just and transparent way. But the draft regulations do not achieve that goal.”

Having completed a study of the draft regulations, the AA delivered a detailed submission to AARTO outlining the association’s concerns.