Traffic laws don’t apply to us. So say four Gauteng MECs
By ATHANDIWE SABA and ANDREW TRENCH
SOME Gauteng MECs claim that they are exempt from speeding laws – because they are like firemen and ambulance drivers.
That’s the bizarre response M24i has received from four Gauteng’s MECs in response to our access to information request asking for records relating to speeding fines and accidents involving their official vehicles.
Our experience in getting these documents is worth sharing as it provides a taste of what an ordinary citizen can expect in trying to use the Promotion of Access to Information Act to get official records.
It has been an exercise in contradiction, frustration – and some eyebrow-raising claims.
At the beginning of this year we filed access to information applications with all Gauteng MECs after the horrendous accident involving the vehicle being used to ferry Local Government and Housing MEC Humphrey Mmemezi, that left West Rand teenager Thomas Ferreira in a coma.
The accident fuelled a major public debate about the conduct of the drivers of cars used for political VIPs – the “blue-light brigade” as they were dubbed.
M24i filed access to information requests asking for all records of all speeding fines and traffic offences the official vehicles of these MECs had attracted.
Out of the 10 departments in Gauteng only five presented the records which were requested on 27 February this year.
The Promotion of Access to Information Act gives entities receiving an application 30 days to respond to the request but none of the departments responded on time.
They are also entitled to request an extension of a further 30 days if required, but this extension is not automatic.
The PAIA act requires a designated “information officer” or “deputy information officer” to deal with requests made in terms of the law. The information officer is normally the accounting officer of a state entity.
These requests are not media inquiries. Any citizen is allowed to file them and they need to be dealt with in terms of the legislated procedures.
The range of contradictory responses illustrates how far we are from a culture of openness – and of commitment to access to information – in public bodies in South Africa.
Five departments gave us records. They were Roads and Public Transport (which produced this story),
Sports Arts Culture and Recreation (no fines or offences), Agriculture and Rural Development (minor incident), Health and Social Development (disclosed a hitherto unknown accident), Infrastructure Development which produced this story.
But four departments cited Section 60 of the National Road Traffic Act (see image and letter from the Finance Department) and claimed the same exemptions as those afforded to emergency workers.
Those that turned to this law were Education, Community Safety, Local Government and Housing and Finance.
The Premier’s Office claimed they would provide the records but we are still waiting.
The responses from the departments who turned to the National Road Traffic Act came after they had simply ignored our initial PAIA applications – and only after we filed internal appeals.
We are now turning to the courts to get access to the records we believe we are entitled to view.