National road municipalities milk motorists for revenue

December 16, 2015, 4:34am

The N2 freeway in Cape Town. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES  

By Katharine Child, Shaun Smillie and Graeme Hosken, Business Day Live

AS SOUTH Africans head to their coastal holiday destinations they will be in the crosshairs of financially struggling municipalities who use motorists’ road infringements to fill their coffers.

With nearly a third of SA’s municipalities in "financial distress", lawless road users bring revenue relief to towns along the N1, N2 and N3 highways linking Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. But, with traffic authorities struggling to force motorists to pay fines, there is doubt over whether they can recover revenue from issued fines. The Treasury has warned that failure to collect self-generated revenue could result in the collapse of municipalities.

Research by Code4SA, based on Treasury data on fines issued last year, shows municipalities are attempting to milk the country’s errant motorists.

The Northern Cape municipality of Ubuntu last year issued R52m in fines, which makes up 49% of its revenue. The municipality, which is situated on the route between Cape Town and Johannesburg, includes the towns of Victoria West, Loxton and Richmond.

Most of the speed trapping done by the municipality’s traffic officers is done on the N1 and N12.

Code4SA’s research shows the fines, which include bylaw infringements, are calculated as fines issued per resident. While smaller municipalities are issuing thousands of fines, their total value is less than those issued in the country’s major metros. The value of the fines issued, however, does not reflect the amount that motorists actually pay.

The research shows that on average municipalities fine a person R64.20. Towns that are issuing fines above the national average include Cape Town (N1 and N2) at R194.96 per person; Theewaterskloof (N2) R274.25; Swellendam (N2) R426.08; Hessequa (N2) R567.13; Knysna (N2) R658.44; and Laingsburg (N1) R2,065.

Code4SA’s research shows that many of the municipalities that issue a high percentage of fines per capita are Democratic Alliance (DA) run. But Siphesihle Dube, spokesman for Western Cape transport minister Donald Grant, said it was not a DA strategy to make money from fines. "Municipalities fall under the local government and the province does not make money from fines."

JP Smith, City of Cape Town safety and security councillor, said Cape Town had a strategy to avoid "greed fining", which made motorists resentful rather than changing their road behaviour. It was likely some municipalities were trying to reduce the speed of motorists on national roads that passed through their towns, Mr Smith said.

Beaufort West chief financial officer Frans Sabbat said on average 15% of fines issued by the municipality were paid. Knysna municipal manager Grant Easton said 99% of fines issued were for traffic infringements.

Thando Mgaga, spokesman for Howick municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, said the municipality issued R24.2m in fines of which it recovered R8.6m. It expected to recover another R4m and would write off the remaining R12m. This works out to a 50% payment rate.

Howard Dembovsky, chairman of the activism group Justice Project, said investment in a speed camera could earn a municipality "millions". Treasury spokesman Thabisa Whittington said municipalities were legally required to generate their own revenue.