Disrespect for human rights erodes SANRAL legitimacy

Following two months of so-called “teething problems”, SANRAL again stands accused of dishonesty, lack of responsiveness, and failing to be open with users of Gauteng’s e-tolled ‘pay-ways’.

11/02/2014 11:50:20

Disrespect for human rights erodes SANRAL legitimacy

In a comprehensive 10,000 word complaint lodged with the Office of the Public Protector on behalf of citizens, OUTA consultant and spokesperson John Clarke accuses SANRAL of breaching no less than seven of the entrenched human rights contained in Chapter Two of the Constitution.

“Since the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) offered to mediate complaints to the Public Protector on behalf of the public, the nature of the complaints immediately suggested that the rights to Privacy, Access to Information, Dignity and Just Administrative Action were relevant. As the avalanche gained momentum and our learning curve steepened, the right to Freedom of Movement, Equality before the Law and even Freedom of Conscience began to crystallise”, said Clarke. He has distilled ten “statements of grievance” to substantiate the alleged violations with corroborating information from media sources and interviews with people visiting e-toll customer service centres.

“The grievances present a formidable challenge for SANRAL and the Transport authorities. Unless there is a radical turnaround this albatross will never fly. Perhaps the most worrying aspect concerns the allegations of violations of the right to privacy on the one hand, and the failure of SANRAL and its agents to respect the constitutional right of access to truthful information on the other. Our right to privacy is not been upheld, while our right of access to information is being denied. That’s completely the wrong way around in the relationship that should prevail between citizens and the State,” says Clarke.

There have been three security breaches of SANRAL’s IT systems but SANRAL’s executives continue to defend the Electronic Tolling Company’s handling of the incidents. The most serious came to light in early January when an inherent security flaw was detected in the login process on the e-toll registration website operated by SANRAL’s appointed agent, the Electronic Tolling Company Pty Ltd (ETC). This allowed anyone to obtain full access to personal information of users. Although ETC has apparently patched the flaws, no apology nor letter has been sent to their registered website to warn them to change their passwords/PIN numbers.

“SANRAL and its service providers have a solemn duty of care to users and their data, especially in a so-called ‘user-pay’ system” says Clarke. “How much more incompetence can we expect the users to pay for? Childish security mistakes, denialism and responses that fall far short of industry best practice only serve to undermine SANRAL’s legitimacy. Given such indifference it is no wonder that 70% of freeway users have not bought e-tags” says Clarke.

On 12 December 2013, OUTA found that only 15% of users of e-tolled roads had e-tags fitted and OUTA’s Recent snap counts at various intersections reveal that the number has barely doubled to 30% after eight weeks, which is very low and falls far short of the reuired levels of success at 80%, especially after SANRAL’s threats and intimidating messaging and invoice wording, plus the tagging of Governments fleets during December and January. We warned that SANRAL’s ‘spook’ tactics would backfire and now they will have to answer to the Public Protector for failing to show commitment to our human rights. We are not talking about narrow legal definitions of ‘compliance’. Commitment is something that had to be proved by those espousing such, not disproved by people who don’t feel respected. For a highly interlaced complex system such as this, the system has to serve people, not the other way around.” Clarke says.

The report asks the Public Protector to in the first instance mediate these grievances to SANRAL CEO Nazir Alli, MEC for Transport Ismail Vadi and Acting Director General of Transport Mr Mawethu Vilana in the hope that a face-to-face meeting with the various anti e-toll lobby group will take place urgently. “We have to get beyond silly adversarial contest and self-deceiving media spin. Things are serious and the grievances are not a matter for media spokespersons to handle. There are critical line management issues at stake. It is time for SANRAL executives and Transport authorities to face the truth of what has surfaced over the past eight weeks.” says Clarke.

OUTA will place the submission to the Public Protector on our website.

Addendum: The Ten Statements of Grievance

  1. Dishonesty in reporting on the sales of e-tags, by fabricating an illusionary and self-deceiving impression that the system is functioning according to plan, and for failing to take users into their confidence on the extent of the security breaches after the SANRAL IT systems were hacked or notifying the user base as a whole that their personal data may have leaked.

  2. Abuse of their authority and power by sending unjustified, inaccurate and offensive messages to people that have provoked needless fear and anxiety and undermined the legitimacy of the State in its function to uphold the Rule of Law.

  3. Discrimination against “alternative users” of the freeways by failing to provide the promised level of service to enable them to take advantage of discounts, process their payments via internet banking, and provide them with documentation for normal accounting purposes.

  4. Unfairly penalised alternative users with exorbitant and extortionist tariffs if they do not pay their e-toll bills promptly, while failing to provide users with accurate and timely tax invoices and proof of the usage charged.

  5. Maladministration of the data bases and mismanagement of the IT systems by failing to ensure the necessary data integrity of primary sources and clean up the system, while expecting the users to take responsibility for initiating remedies to correct the errors and problems.

  6. Obtaining personal information of people by violating their right to privacy.

  7. Discourtesy to people seeking redress and explanation for errors and problems that have arisen from internal problems.

  8. Failure to give complainants access to information necessary for the exercise and protection of their constitutional rights, and specifically their consumer rights.

  9. Failure to provide reasonable and transparent justification for decisions taken by the authorities with respect to public money.

  10. Failure to provide the advertised discounts for users who have bought e-tags and have signed SANRAL terms and conditions.

OUTA is a proudly South African civil action organisation, that is purely crowd funded. Our work is supported by ordinary citizens who are passionate about holding government accountable and ensuring our taxes are used to the benefit of all South Africans.