JMPD milks Gauteng motorists for fines
Justice. Law. Order. These three words may be considered integral to the legal system in South Africa, yet when it comes to the Johannesburg Metro Police Department’s (JMPD) traffic enforcement there is a growing belief that only one of these three is applied to motorists in Johannesburg: Law. How any beneficial outcomes of the JMPD’s perceived selective law enforcement contribute to the wider public wellbeing is poorly defined, so such failure inevitably fuels public dissent. This in turn popularises a belief that the local State’s quest for money may be involved in the problem, ultimately undermining the true function of the JMPD in the long run.
The JMPD may protest that it’s merely trying to do its job and is genuinely concerned about motorists’ safety but its traffic enforcement policy is increasingly hated and viewed by motorists as a form of indirect taxation intended to plug funding holes in public sector finances, with the safety and wellbeing of motorists pushed aside for this primary goal.
These doubts can be easily ignored by the JMPD as it goes about its business, as they likely will at this juncture. Yet these public doubts need to be viewed against the reported R145million shortfall in last year’s budgeted Johannesburg traffic fine collections and expensive provisions of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offenders (AARTO) Act that are expected to come into force in April 2011.
True, the enforcement of some of these laws is actually welcomed by the public, but the timing, against the backdrop of a poor economy, poor tax collections and little support from the central Government, is suspicious.
The JMPD’s position is not helped either by unsubstantiated verbal rumours that even ambulances rushing to and from accident scenes involving critically injured patients are fined by traffic cameras, which if true in the case of public hospitals is an absurd example of one state institution preying on another. This is followed by the JMPD’s own apparent eagerness to selectively enforce aspects of the AARTO Act early.
Then there is the sudden aggressive enforcement of obscure traffic clauses that can penalise motorists unusually heavily. Some examples include the requirement that all vehicles must possess a red traffic triangle or the driver will be subject to a R500 fine, or that any vehicle breakdown which is deemed to be due to the vehicle running out of petrol will result in the vehicle being impounded and the driver fined R1,000.
True, the enforcement of some of these laws is actually welcomed by the public, but the timing, against the backdrop of a poor economy, poor tax collections and little support from the central Government, is suspicious. Given that the JMPD officers have also suddenly found the will to maintain manual speeding cameras at night, and have turned to exploiting sudden drops in speed limits required by roadwork signs in order to catch motorists out with unexpected fines (as witnessed by this writer under the M1 North Grayston bridge on the nights of September 18th and 19th) their actions are instead seen as evidence of the JMPD’s perceived quest for the money in motorists bank accounts rather than their wellbeing.
It does not help the JMPD’s counter-arguments either that insurance companies are again raising their motor vehicle premiums at unsustainably high annual rates in response to the ever escalating number of motor vehicle insurance claims from accidents. True, the number of drunken driving arrests may have fallen after the recent no tolerance policy towards drunkenness (one which large numbers of the public did indeed also appear to approve of), but it does not diminish the growing belief that real traffic enforcement policy is aimed at contributing to the fiscus as it fails to reduce the number of road accidents outside of drunken driving.
Ironically the widespread belief that JMPD officers also regularly attempt to solicit bribes or ‘lunch money’ as it is colloquially called, would serve as a critic’s argument that the JMPD are not behaving as public servants, but rather ones that enforce a predatorial tendency of the local State towards the public.
It should then come as little surprise that given the increasingly interconnected forms of communication available the JMPD’s harsh modus operandi would invite the rise of personas like PigSpotter. The JMPD may publicly resent the derogatory term of ‘pigs’ used to refer to it but its attempt to file cases of slander and criminality, when this insult has been in use for decades and PigSpotter may not be prosecutable indicates how the response is emotional and there may be hidden strain with the JMPD from trying to maintain its harsh line. All of which may even paradoxically contribute to less net traffic fine revenues in the long run as motorists take steps to avoid the JMPD’s bureaucratically wasteful wrath. This could contribute to a result that is negative or only marginally positive for the economy overall and does not directly add to public wellbeing, when both could be more easily achieved with better strategies.
Sadly, if the public believed the JMPD was a fair enforcer of the law genuinely concerned after their wellbeing – however harsh or burdensome the fines were – then PigSpotter wouldn’t be able to enjoy the widespread backing he (or the possible several individuals that share the Twitter persona) now receives. In fact the public may even welcome it. Unfortunately it does not, since the JMPD behaves as if it views all of the public as criminals and its conduct is an outright public relations disaster.
Ultimately it may not actually be the JMPD that is at fault, but rather the policies of the provincial government to shore up its fiscus in the midst of a severe recession. This is unlikely to result in relief for motorists though, as it becomes clear the situation is a lose: lose one.