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The Portfolio Committee on Transport has heard that the current Road Accident Benefit Scheme (Rabs) Bill is not pro-poor. On Tuesday, the Black Lawyers’ Association (BLA) presented an oral submission during ongoing public hearings on the Bill.

The president of the BLA, Mr Lutendo Sigogo, said the association was concerned that, apart from the introduction of an average annual income, the Bill is not pro-poor. “It is important that it will cap the money that will be paid to the rich and that money will be available to subsidise the poor. Without this, the rich could get away with a lot of money,” he said.

The committee resumed public hearings on the Rabs Bill on Tuesday and all this week various stakeholders will have an opportunity to make oral submissions. Mr Sigogo said the poor will not be able to fully protect their rights, as the Bill removed assistance with legal costs. He pleaded with the committee to take into consideration the future income generating potential of tertiary education students when considering the bill. He also cautioned against extending benefits to reckless drivers.

Committee Member Mr Leornard Ramatlakane asked in what way the current system was pro-poor. “We see benefits going to the lawyers’ pockets. We do not see this concern about the poor when you are making money. The reality is that in 2015, lawyer fees increased by 46%. Also, a number of legal firms depend on RAF as it currently stands. Their fear is that if it changes, they might have to close their business,” he said.

The committee will not be deterred in seeking to protect the poor. “Our business is to stand with the poor and not the rich. By changing this Bill, we are going to protect the poor in the process. We are going to close the tab for these firms.” Mr Ramatlakane said Parliament’s commitment is to ensure that the poor are protected by the law, not necessarily by the lawyers.

Committee Member Ms Sheila Xego said that BLA could not claim to be pro-poor if money paid to victims is somewhere in the lawyers’ trust funds. “Where do we put the poorest of the poor there,” she said. Ms Xego said there are instances where lawyers passed on or were struck off the roll while they withheld payments from victims.

Mr Sigogo replied the money withheld from victims is usually paid out with interest. He reiterated that BLA lawyers are for poor people and sometimes take briefs pro-bono.

The committee will hear later from the Northern Cape Law Society.

Sibongile Maputi
22 May 2018