Lawyers' condemnation note regarding the Road Accidents Fund

Lawyers’ condemnation note regarding the Road Accidents Fund

Deputy Minister of Transport Lisa Mangku.

Deputy Minister of Transport Lisa Mangku.

Photo: Gallo Images/Ziad Douglas

  • Lawyers representing the victims have issued a scathing memorandum on the Road Accident Fund ‘crisis’.
  • They blame the CEO and want to appoint a new board of directors.
  • The Deputy Minister for Transport and the RAF blamed lawyers for many of the problems.

Lawyers from 10 organizations have put together a scathing joint memorandum about what they call a “crisis” in the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

Signatories include the Law Society of South Africa, the Black Bar Association, the National Democratic Lawyers Association and the South African Medical-Legal Association.

They say they speak on behalf of road accident victims and as officers of the court and guardians of the constitution.

It comes after Deputy Transport Minister Lisa Mangku and the RAF both blamed lawyers for many of the fund’s problems, including a large backlog in claims processing and long delays in paying victims and lawyers.

In the note, the lawyers say the “narrative” blaming lawyers for the RAF’s problems is intended to deflect attention from the incompetence and negligence of the RAF, a taxpayer-funded statutory body responsible for covering costs incurred by road accident victims.

They say the situation is so bad that accident victims are “literally barred from making claims against the RAF”.

They want Transport Secretary Sindiswe Chikunga to appoint a new RAF board.

Read | RAF has ‘one foot in the grave’: Calls for investigation as Scopa encountered ‘disorder’ during observation visit

They say RAF Chief Executive Collins Letswalo does not have the legal background required for the job.

The memorandum is addressed to Chikunga, Mangku, Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola Letswalo, the Royal Air Force Board of Directors, Parliament Portfolio Committee for Transport, Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), Auditor General Tsakani Malolek and the Legal Practice Council.

Lawyers say the RAF failed to handle the victims’ claims promptly because it was grossly dysfunctional, incapable of basic management, and engaged in unnecessary litigation while failing to respond to numerous court orders.

The memo blames Letswalo for most of the crisis, saying the CEO by his own admission has only a basic understanding of the law.

He points to several of the Supreme Court’s recent findings against the RAF Judges criticized The Board of Directors and CEO of the Fund.

Lawyers say the RAF’s decision to scrap panels of barristers that previously investigated cases and administered litigation and settlements, It proved disastrous.

The RAF now uses state solicitors for representation, but the authors of the note say this “outsourcing to the Ministry of Justice” has resulted in unnecessary delays and wasted expense in litigation in cases where a settlement could have been reached.

The memo also criticizes the RAF for:

  • refuse to cover expenses if they have already been paid for by victim’s medical assistance, stating that this means that victims forfeit medical benefits from their schemes;
  • new requirements for filing claims which resulted in many claims being disregarded, despite the Eastern Cape High Court ruling that the RAF should suspend the new process;
  • reversing established practices by refusing to cover foreign nationals who cannot legally establish they are in South Africa;
  • “failing to make ordinarily timely payments”, which led to the sheriff of the court executing writs of execution against the trust; And
  • Employees remain on standby from payment, despite the decisions of the Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Committee.

The memorandum asserts that basic office management does not occur at the RAF and paints a worrying picture of an unresponsive organisation, where emails are not answered, claims are not acknowledged, documents are mismanaged and the helpline does not work.

The authors of the memorandum demand an urgent meeting with those responsible for the British Royal Air Force.

They want Chikunga to appoint a new board of directors and a suitably qualified CEO.

They suggest reconstituting the bar system or appointing enough state solicitors to deal with RAF matters in court, and setting up a dedicated RAF tribunal in Pretoria.

They also want the RAF to improve its system for handling claims and put in place the basics of business – answering phone calls, returning letters, acknowledging communications – honoring court orders and paying claims and bills on time.

The RAF, which is funded largely by money obtained from the fuel tax, has struggled for years to meet its financial obligations and recent attempts to make its books look better by adopting a different accounting system have attracted the wrath of the Auditor General and Scopa.

In addition to facing Big claimsThe RAF lost money to unscrupulous lawyers, who allegedly doubled payments. This is being investigated by the Special Investigation Unit, which has also received reports of alleged mismanagement and wasteful expenditures at the RAF.

newly Observation visit By Scopa members to the RAF Head Office in Pretoria, they found chaotic working conditions, including boxes of documents lying on the floor, and staff forced to work without office furniture and equipment because it had been confiscated by the sheriff.

The term of office of the RAF board has expired, but has remained standing as a new term has not yet been appointed.

The RAF did not respond to GroundUp’s questions about the memo at the time of publication.

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