Accident data meltdown claimed in road traffic agency
JEANNE VAN DER MERWE
A COMPUTER error within the Road Accident Management Corporation, government’s custodian of road accident data, has rendered almost 20 years of national road accident data unusable, sources claim.
The corporation is responsible for publishing official road accident statistics and holds official data on the location and circumstances of all fatal and non-fatal traffic accidents.
Several former RTMC officials told Media24 Investigations that data on non-fatal accidents was rendered unusable when it was migrated to a new database early this year without being backed up first, and that external experts were called in to assist in the reconstruction of the data.
The RTMC itself denies the error.
The corporation’s accident data system has been dogged by controversy and was cited in the suspension and eventual dismissal of its previous CEO, Ranthoko Rakgoale.
The corporation hints at problems with its accident database in its latest annual report, saying a “crash data recording system” is “taking longer than anticipated”, and that “data migration (is) in progress”.
The latest accident statistics available on the corporation’s website is from 2010. Two other reports from March and December 2011 were located on independent websites.
Unlike previous years, the corporation’s 2011-2012 annual report, released last week, does not contain a comprehensive provincial breakdown of road accident fatalities, as was the case in both preceding years’ annual reports.
Three insiders with direct knowledge said that earlier this year, following the migration to a new database, queries on the new database yielded accidents that took place in the years 2017 and in the 1940s. The actual accident database apparently contains data from the 1990s to the present.
The extent of the claimed data loss is unclear. Some insiders said the data was permanently lost, while others said it would be possible to reconstruct over time.
RTMC spokesman Ashref Ismail said: “We can confirm that the RTMC crash stats have not been transferred from any one system to [another]. The stats are currently still being maintained on the existing system.
“No crash data has been included in our Annual Report because the RTMC is finalizing a comprehensive State of Traffic Safety Report which will be release to the public shortly.”
At the time the corporation embarked on the current database, it had already incurred more than R48m in fruitless and wasteful expenditure on a previous accident reporting system developed by controversial IT contractor Lefatshe Technologies. This contract was cancelled in 2010 after a board of enquiry, led by recently-appointed police commissioner Riah Phiyega, found that improper procurement processes were followed.
It was in the wake of this and irregular expenditure to the tune of R360m that Rakgoale was suspended in April 2010. His employment was eventually terminated in December last year.
Gary Ronald, spokesman of the Automobile Association, said the corporation’s reticence in releasing statistics had “major implications” for road safety policy formulation.
Howard Dembovsky, chairman of the Justice Project South Africa, said: “One cannot hope to make any progress unless one knows what the problem is in the first place, and unreliable or non-existent information does nothing to help in diagnosing the problem.”
Western Cape transport MEC Robin Carlisle pointed out that the corporation did not currently have a board, as required by the legislation, and has been run by a temporary CEO for the past two years.
The corporation incurred a net deficit of R41m in the past financial year, and in March this year its liabilities exceeded its assets by R203m. The Auditor General noted that there was “significant doubt on [the RTMC’s] ability to operate as a going concern”.