Legislation: Treasury concerns about RABS Bill to be addressed?

Publish date: 22 August 2018
Issue Number: 4528
Diary: Legalbrief Today

National Treasury concerns about the controversial Road Accident Benefit Scheme Bill already reported in Legalbrief Today (Weekend Argus) are likely to be addressed – to some extent. However, while Transport Minister Blade Nzimande apparently convinced most National Assembly Transport Committee members at yesterday’s meeting that he and Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene are now ‘speaking with one voice’, a briefing on the Department of Transport’s response to issues raised last week by Treasury was worryingly silent on the vexed issue of funding and, by implication, the possibility of an increase in the fuel levy. All of which left stakeholder observers at the meeting unimpressed when acting Department of Transport DG Chris Hlabisa alluded to a ‘letter’ to the committee, ‘signed by both Ministers’ and reaffirming their ongoing commitment to ‘finding each other’ on the proposed benefit scheme’s administration and governance, notes Pam Saxby for Legalbrief Policy Watch.

Interestingly, a Department of Transport document circulated at the meeting – suggesting a raft of replacement clauses possibly informed by Treasury input – included proposals for a ‘new’ Chapter 4 dealing with financial management and related actuarial valuations. It also pointed to the reformulation of clause 27(4), which focuses on the victims of road accidents not yet South African permanent residents or naturalised citizens. Should the department’s proposals in this regard be adopted, the clause envisaged will also address the ‘moral hazards’ associated with accidents resulting from offences under the Criminal Procedure and Road Traffic Acts. However, according to one department official the proposals are not sufficiently ‘substantive’ to merit another round of public consultations.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether members will endorse them anyway – especially given committee chair Dikeledi Magadzi’s insistence that the Treasury submission will be ‘treated like any other’. Why are departmental officials so reluctant to consider the possibility of flaws in actuarial costing and funding assumptions underpinning the Bill? Will a call from the DA’s Chris Hunsinger for a ‘fresh actuarial evaluation’ go unheeded simply because it came from the official opposition?

‘Our people are ignorant,’ the ANC’s Sheilla Xego lamented when she appealed to the department for radio and other programmes to ‘educate’ those unfortunate enough to fall victim to road accidents on their ‘rights’. But it goes deeper than that, Honourable Xego: ‘our people’ are becoming increasingly weary of unfulfilled promises. Surely they deserve representatives in Parliament willing to go the extra mile so that they fully understand the fiscal implications of the policies and legislation before them? After all, SA’s economic growth prospects remain far from encouraging. According to a Parliamentary Monitoring Group report on the meeting at which Treasury voiced its concerns, the Bill constitutes ‘the largest social security reform since the introduction of social grants’. Reservations about its ‘financial sustainability and viability’ demand serious, well-informed consideration in a country clearly struggling to balance its budget and where most citizens barely manage to make ends meet.