Legislation: Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bill ‘revived’

20 February 2019 – BY PAM SAXBY OBO POLICYWATCH

‘B’ version of the Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bill was reinstated on Tuesday and is now back on the National Assembly order paper for a second reading debate – probably next week, reports Pam Saxby for Legalbrief. It featured in a long list of items identified by ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu for ‘revival’, not having been considered during the last sitting of the House for 2018. Because amendments to the Bill tabled by the DA’s Chris Hunsinger were ‘negatived’ at the sitting, opposition parties walked out – rendering the House inquorate and unable to vote on its second reading. The Bill lapsed as a result. The DA has since approached the courts to challenge a decision to exclude the ‘dissenting views’ of opposition parties from a National Assembly Transport Committee report on the Bill. Describing the ‘attitude’ of ANC members of the committee as ‘roughshod’, a media statement announcing the move last week quoted National Assembly Rules 166 and 288 – which the DA’s Manny de Freitas believes are ‘unambiguous’ on the matter.

In his Budget speech on Wednesday, Minister Tito Mboweni called on Parliament to complete its work on this controversial piece of proposed new legislation as a matter of urgency. In the Minister’s view, once in force it will ‘help stabilise fuel prices’. He made this remark in the context of an increase of 5c/l in the Road Accident Fund levy from 1 April, conceding that this is nevertheless ‘not enough to match the fund’s R215bn liability’. Last August, National Treasury chief director for urban development and infrastructure, Ulrike Britton, told committee members that the three separate accounts introduced in the Bill (benefit, transition and operations) are expected to create sufficient ‘flexibility’ for government to ‘manage’ any funding ‘uncertainties’ that may arise. While the fuel levy ‘is ‘not a buoyant revenue stream’ and is likely to become even less so given ongoing technological developments, at the time Britton considered it the most ‘appropriate’ source of funding in the ‘medium term’. Government has yet to seriously consider ‘alternative’ tax measures for ensuring that, ‘longer term’, ‘all road users’ contribute towards financing the new scheme. Hunsinger’s proposals were included in an order paper for the National Assembly’s 6 December sitting. Summarising them in last week’s statement announcing the DA’s decision to take the matter to court, De Freitas said that, ‘in its minority report’, his party ‘objected to … (a) motion of desirability pertaining to the inclusion of no fault and the exclusion of the use of common law within the … Bill’. This is noting that, ‘if passed, the Bill will permit anyone to claim after (an) accident even if it is that party’s fault’. In the DA’s view, the Bill ‘also circumvents legal processes that are constitutionally available’.