Privatise it!

A radical idea that could lead to safer roads, wealthier municipalities – and tax savings.

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A friend of mine was recently stopped for speeding. As is his habit when travelling through that area, he simply held two notes out of the window of his car in anticipation of a quick getaway. However, the traffic cop was offended. Not because he was offering her a bribe, but because he was doing so in front of his children, who were also in the car. My friend was made to get out of his vehicle and offer the notes in a more discreet manner.

So bribery happens and traffic offenders sometimes get off more lightly than they should. It’s a fact. And the culture of ‘road abuse’ continues. We also have widespread unemployment in South Africa, and I believe many law graduates could do with work. So why not privatise the traffic police system or add ‘private operators’? Train and licence suitable candidates as ‘traffic compliance officers’.

After all, we already have compliance officers who police insurance agents and brokers to make sure the public is protected against possible bad practices. In traffic compliance, a licensed private individual would collect their fee out of fines paid to the municipality in the area where the offence took place. The traffic compliance officer could also help solve the existing problem of many thousands of traffic fines not being paid.

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The present system allows for a small contempt of court fine to be added to the main fine should an offender not bother to do anything about the summons received from the traffic official. The principal amount thus does not accrue interest, and there’s not much incentive for an offender to pay the admission of guilt fine.

Zealously guarded
The non-payment of traffic fines is a problem that is thriving in the face of municipalities that are struggling financially.
Private traffic compliance officers, however, would have an incentive to follow up on offenders, because if they don’t pay, the officer doesn’t get paid!

With fines now being stringently followed up on, the general public might possibly heed traffic rules. Another result of privatisation may be that the private operative, wanting to get ahead, would zealously guard the area allocated to them.
And municipalities might receive more money as private individuals ensure that the fines are paid. Obviously the potentially lucrative licence would be revoked in cases of corruption of any sort.

In fact, it might be easier to terminate the services of a contractor in breach of their contractual obligations than to fire a wayward municipality employee. To sum up, then – privatisation would increase the municipality’s income, there would be more efficient compliance control and also better road safety because the rules would be enforced by people whose income depends solely upon the collection of cash.

The fees earned by private operators would be offset by not having inefficient traffic officers in the employ of the municipality concerned and by efficient gathering of cash, thereby eliminating expensive credit control staff and mechanisms.

Peter O’Halloran is head of tax at BDO, Gaborone. Contact him on 00267 390 2779 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Tax’ in the subject line of your email.