Lawyers from ten different legal associations are demanding intervention from the Road Accident Fund (ROF) after it has been – in the words of MPs – a “national disaster” for some time now, which is leaving victims of road accidents in the lurch.
The RAF has struggled for years to process the myriad claims from victims and meet its financial obligations.
The respective associations attribute this to “incompetence” and “negligence” at the fund and not because of the lawyers who are holding the fund in court.
Members of the Gauteng Lawyers Association, the Law Association of South Africa, the South African Women’s Lawyers Association and the West Rand Legal Practitioners Association, among others, outlined in a letter how the RAF and its chief executive are failing South Africans – and exactly what the adverse effects are. of which are on victims.
The associations composed the letter on behalf of “all the victims of road accidents”, and as officers of the court and guardians of the Constitution.
The letter comes shortly after the blame for the “crisis” at the RAF was laid at the door of lawyers. Lisa Mangcu, deputy minister of transport, in an interview with eNCA, blamed the legal representatives for the adversity at the fund.
Among other things, Mangcu argued that lawyers representing victims are the reason for the large backlog in processing claims as well as long delays in compensating victims.
The RAF is a statutory body responsible for bearing the costs incurred by victims of road accidents. The fund is largely financed with money from the fuel levy, but has nevertheless struggled to stay afloat for years.
In the memorandum, the lawyers say the “narrative” that blames lawyers for the RAF’s problems is intended to divert attention from what really happen at the fund.
The lawyers say the RAF fails to settle victims’ claims promptly because it is largely dysfunctional, cannot master basic administration and is involved in unnecessary litigation. Moreover, court orders are not even obeyed.
The RAF has reportedly deteriorated so far that victims of road accidents are “literally prevented from submitting claims against the fund”.
The lawyers addressed the letter to the Minister of Transport and her deputy, as well as to the Minister of Justice, the RAF Council, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Skoor), the Auditor General and the Legal Practice Council .
They argue that most of the RAF’s problems stem from its management by its chief executive, Collins Letsoalo, and the lawyers ask that few. Sindisiwe Chikunga replaced him with a competent leader “with the necessary legal background”.
Apparently, Letsoalo himself admitted that he only has a basic understanding of the legal system. This was confirmed in several court cases where he and the RAF’s council were criticized for their actions.
In a recent High Court judgment in Mpumalanga, the RAF was described as “a bus with no direction” and that the “chaotic situation” at the fund was caused by its chief executive and board.
The lawyers further argue that the RAF’s decision to do away with the panel of lawyers who previously investigated claims and managed litigation and settlements was “disastrous”. The RAF now uses state attorneys for representation, but the attorneys say this “outsourcing to the Department of Justice” has led to unnecessary delays. Many expenses are also wasted on litigation in cases where a settlement could actually be reached.
The lawyers also point out that the new requirements for submitting claims have resulted in many of the claims being ignored. This despite a decision by the High Court in the Eastern Cape that the RAF must delete the new requirements.
The memorandum claims that basic office administration is lacking at the RAF. It paints a worrying picture of an organization that does not respond to enquiries, leaves emails unanswered, disregards claims, mismanages documents and leaves the helpline unmanned.
In addition, “(the RAF) regularly fails to make timely payments (to victims)” which forces the sheriff to intervene and seize the fund’s assets.
The signatories of the memorandum demand an urgent meeting with those responsible for the management of the RAF. The lawyers demand, among other things, that –
- Chikunga appoints a new board and chief executive;
- the lawyer panel system is reconstituted or enough state attorneys are appointed to handle all the fund’s cases in court;
- a dedicated RAF court is set up in Pretoria;
- the fund improves its system for handling claims and introduces business principles where telephone calls and messages are answered and receipt of communications acknowledged;
- the RAF respects court orders; and
- the fund pays claims and bills on time.
The RAF council’s term of office has already ended, but the council remains in force until a new council can be appointed.
It is unknown whether the lawyers have received any feedback on their memorandum.
- Additional source: GroundUp