Lawyers’ damning memorandum on Road Accident Fund

Attorneys for accident victims demand sweeping changes

By Chiara Carter

25 July 2023

Emails to the Road Accident Fund go unanswered, claims are unacknowledged, documents are mismanaged and the helpline does not function, say lawyers from 10 organisations in a stinging memo on the RAF.

Lawyers from ten organisations have compiled a stinging joint memorandum about what they term a “crisis” at the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

The signatories include the Law Society of South Africa, the Black Lawyers’ Association and the National Democratic Lawyers’ Association as well as the South African Medico-legal Association.

They say they are speaking on behalf of the victims of road accidents and as officers of the court and custodians of the Constitution.

This comes after the Deputy Minister of Transport Lisa Mangcu and the RAF each blamed lawyers for many of the RAF’s woes, including the large backlog in processing claims and long delays in payouts to victims and to lawyers.

In the memorandum, the lawyers say the “narrative” blaming lawyers for the RAF’s problems is intended to distract attention from the ineptitude and negligence at the RAF, a taxpayer-funded statutory body responsible for covering the costs incurred by victims of road accidents.

They say the situation is so bad that accident victims are “literally prevented from lodging claims against the RAF”.

They want Minister of Transport Sindiswe Chikunga to appoint a new RAF board. They say RAF CEO Collins Letsoalo does not have the requisite legal background for the job.

The memorandum is addressed to Chikunga and Mangcu, justice minister Ronald Lamola, Letsoalo and the RAF board, Parliament’s portfolio committee for transport and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), Auditor-General Tsakani Maluleke, and the Legal Practice Council.

The lawyers say the RAF has failed to deal with victims’ claims promptly because it is largely dysfunctional, incapable of basic administration and engaged in unnecessary litigation while failing to heed several court orders.

The memorandum blames Letsoalo for much of the crisis, saying the CEO by his own admission has only a basic understanding of law.

It points to several recent high court findings against the RAF in which judges slammed the fund’s board and CEO.

The lawyers say the RAF’s decision to do away with the panels of attorneys that previously investigated claims and managed litigation and settlements has proven disastrous. The RAF now uses state attorneys for representation, but the authors of the memorandum say this “outsourcing to the department of justice” has led to unnecessary delays and wasteful expenditure on litigation in cases where a settlement could have been reached.

The memorandum also criticises the RAF for:

The memorandum asserts that basic office administration does not happen at the RAF and paints an alarming picture of an unresponsive organisation where emails go unanswered, claims are unacknowledged, documents are mismanaged and the helpline does not function.

The authors of the memorandum are asking for an urgent meeting with those responsible for the RAF.

They want Chikunga to appoint a new board and a suitably qualified CEO. They suggest that the attorney panel system be reconstituted or sufficient state attorneys appointed to handle RAF matters in court, and that a dedicated RAF court be set up in Pretoria.

They also want the RAF to improve its system of dealing with claims and institute business basics – phone calls answered, messages returned and communications acknowledged – and to respect court orders and pay claims and bills on time.

The RAF, which is largely funded with money obtained from the Fuel Levy, has for years battled to meet its financial obligations and its recent attempts to make its books look better by adopting a different accounting system attracted the ire of the Auditor-General and SCOPA.

In addition to facing substantial claims, the RAF has lost money to unscrupulous lawyers who allegedly double-dipped on payments. This is being investigated by the Special Investigating Unit which has also received reports about alleged maladministration and wasteful expenditure at the RAF.

A recent oversight visit by members of SCOPA to the RAF head office in Pretoria found chaotic working conditions, including boxes of documents lying around on the floor and employees forced to function without office furniture and equipment as this had been seized by sheriffs.

The RAF board’s term of office has ended but the board has remained in place as a new board is yet to be appointed.

The RAF had not replied to GroundUp’s questions on the memorandum at the time of publication.