Road Accident Benefit Scheme Down, But Not Out

Earlier this year, we spoke a little bit about (what has widely been dubbed) the pending disaster that is the Road Accident Benefit Scheme (RABS).

Designed to replace the embattled Road Accident Fund (RAF), the RABS has been marketed by the government as an opportunity to bypass expensive litigation associated with the RAF and replace it with a system that benefits the poor while improving their access to care in the event of a road accident.

Meanwhile, critics of the RABS, which include all of the major opposition parties in parliament, have slammed the Bill. 

They claim that the Road Accident Benefit Scheme will lead to a major increase in the fuel levy, and reward drunken and negligent drivers with financial compensation when they cause accidents. 

Worst of all, it will severely prejudice the poor, minors and the elderly if they suffer the consequences of a road accident.

Let’s take a look at how the situation has been unfolding.

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Controversy Reaches Boiling Point

Controversy surrounding the Bill heated toward the end of last year, leading to a sitting (intended to pass the Bill) failing when opposition parties staged a mass walkout.

This, in turn, left too few parliamentarians attending the sitting to pass the legislation. Clever move. 

The Bill then suffered another major setback in December when opposition parties won a vote to debate a report on the legislation.

This effectively pushed the decision on whether or not the Bill would be passed up to January 2019. 

Parliamentary records subsequently showed that RABS lapsed on the 9th of January. According to the rules governing the National Assembly, this means that the process of passing RABS has to start from scratch. 

So, opposition parties may have bought South Africans two years in which to fight the proposed legislation – and come up with more sensible solutions to the problems plaguing the RAF.

Road Accident Benefit Scheme Not Quite A Write Off

Statements made by members of the ruling party, however, have indicated that the government does not anticipate having to launch the RABS from scratch. 

In January of this year, the Mail & Guardian reported comments made by the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Transport, ANC member Dikiledi Magadzi, indicating that the ruling party is of the opinion that the Bill had not lapsed and that it will re-appear during the fifth parliament.

However, the Report of the Portfolio Committee on Transport on Budget Vote 35: Transport, Dated 04 July 2019, appeared to concede that the RAF will remain operational in the medium term and suggested that an attempt will be made to revive the RABS at the 6th parliament.

During the Department of Transport’s 2019/2020 Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan meeting in July, issues with the Road Accident Fund were once again the topic of discussion, with the RABS punted as a viable solution to these problems by the Minister of Transport.

The meeting, however, made no mention of specifics of when the Bill would be brought before parliamentarians for another vote.

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Where Does That Leave South Africans?

For the moment, it appears as if efforts made by advocacy groups, including the Association for the Protection of Road Accident Vehicles (APRAV) and opposition parties in parliament, have successfully delayed the finalization of the Road Accident Benefit Scheme.

It is also clear that while the RABS has suffered a setback, the ruling party and its representatives in the Department of Transport are determined to have the RABS Bill tabled again within the next couple of years.

It has been suggested, however, that a better solution would be for government to do away with both the RAF and the RABS, and instead opt for making third-party insurance compulsory by law in South Africa – as it is in many other countries – and allowing experienced insurance companies to handle accident claims.

According to Howard Dembovsky, Chairperson of the Justice Project South Africa:

” Government has proven beyond any reasonable doubt, that it is not capable of running an insurance company. Perhaps it is time for them to hand over the reigns to insurance companies whose business it is to deal with negligence claims. “

With the current RAF facing very real problems, including a massive case backlog and billions of rands in unfunded liabilities, one thing is for sure: 

The debate over how to manage the compensation of road accident victims is far from over.

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