MPs query new Road Traffic penalties, fees

The Directorate of Road Traffic and Safety Services (DRTSS) says it will go ahead to implement new fees and fines for miscellaneous traffic offences despite Parliament arguing the move is illegal.

Parliament said DRTSS overstepped its mandate by rushing to announce the new fees and penalties, set to be effected November 13 2017, without the approval of the House.

A DRTSS officer checks vehicle documentation

But addressing the press in Lilongwe yesterday, DRTSS acting director general Fergus Gondwe said the directorate will implement the new fines because it wants to reduce accidents and save people’s lives.

“We have not introduced the fines to get money from motorists. This country has been recording increased number of fatal accidents for the past five years. In 2016, 1 112 people were killed from 962 fatal accidents while this year from January to September 2017, 1 791 people have been killed from 964 fatal accidents that occurred.”

Queried why the announcement of the hike seems to have taken many Malawians, including members of Parliament unawares, Gondwe said they followed all the necessary channels to inform the nation but that some  have misunderstood the message.

“The amendments that we are implementing underwent the due process including Parliament and the law under Section 1:81 empowers the minister to adjust tariffs. When the amendments were done they were taken to Parliament, Ministry of Justice and they were gazetted. There was no jumping the gun,” he said.

The DRTSS said the coming into effect of the new penalties and fees follows government notices number 55 and 56; Road Traffic Act (CAP.69.01) Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Fees) (Amendment) Regulations and Road Traffic Act (CAP.69.01) Road Traffic (Prescribed Offences and Penalties) (Amendment) Regulations 2017, respectively.

But in an interview yesterday, three Parliamentary Committees of Legal Affairs, International Relations, and Transport and Public Works said the new regulations cannot take effect next Monday until Parliament authorises them.

“This is a Constitutional matter… The department has overstepped its mandate and these regulations are illegal because much as we appreciate that the Road Traffic Act gives the line minister to promulgate regulations but it has to be in line with what is stipulated in the principal Act. If the said law is obsolete, the best the minister can do is to bring the Act to Parliament for review,” said Maxwell Thyolera, chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee.

He said Parliament task is backed by Section 58 (2): Parliament shall not have the power to delegate any legislative powers which would substantially and significantly affect the fundamental rights and freedoms recognised by this Constitution.”

The chairperson said the committee has since summoned the DRTSS to appear before it at Parliament Building in Lilongwe on Monday morning.

According to Thyolera, who is Malawi Congress Party (MCP), parliamentarian, the maximum penalty for offences not specified in the Road Traffic Act is a fine of K20 000 and or imprisonment for two years.

“Now if the fines expressed in kwacha and dollars are deemed to be on the lower side, we have the Fines and Conventions Act of 2005 and the courts are the ones who have the mandate to decide on this,” he said.

Major said Parliament was not consulted on the regulations as such they could not be enforced in Malawi.

“As Parliament, we want people to adhere to the Constitution, so those regulations, as it stands, cannot be used because basically they don’t exist,” he explained.

Similarly, Transport and Public Works Committee chair Victor White Mbewe said the new fines are very high and seem to be bent on punishing Malawians.

At the press briefing, Traffic Police chief McFerson Matowe said coming up with new fines will help reduce accidents resulting from reckless driving.

Road Traffic and Safety Services statistics show that overspeeding and drink driving are the leading causes of accidents.

Among others, under the new penalties and fees errant drivers will be liable to pay up to 10 times more for specified traffic crimes.

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