Couturiers of the law
Yes, ten years have passed since the Sheriff of the High Court entered the premises of attorneys Hoosain Mohamed and Associates with a “search and seizure” warrant, obtained by noseweek, to secure evidence that Mohamed and his partner, Ahmed Chohani had been operating a scheme to cheat mostly illiterate road accident victims out of their Road Accident Fund payouts. The story was another milestone in this publication’s history as a campaigner for social reform and justice for all. It saw both attorneys sent to jail, and millions recovered that could be refunded to scores of impoverished victims.
As important: the Road Accident Fund story highlighted how dangerous it is to give the legal profession a key role in the administration of a welfare system funded with taxpayers’ money. The ethos of the one is simply incompatible with the other. Lawyers manoeuvre to achieve maximum income for minimum effort; all too often they are simply couturiers and bespoke tailors charging outrageous prices for exclusive, unique garments. Social welfare makes bulk purchases to secure the maximum number of mass-produced winter blankets for the poor. Cross the two and you get smart lawyers appropriating half the national justice budget to fashion Jacob Zuma’s latest exotic defence.
Noseweek is still regularly contacted about thieving road-accident attorneys, the gatekeepers to this social security fund. But if you still think that lawyers representing accident victims are the only rogues exploiting the system, we must disabuse you of that notion: the RAF’s own attorneys are frequently as bad, or worse.
It is time to remove the requirement of proving fault against a motorist or pedestrian in order to succeed with a claim. Only once Parliament legislates a “no blame” system – and limits are placed on the amount of compensation this society can offer any one victim – will the Road Accident Fund fulfil its proper social security purpose.
The Attorneys’ Fidelity Fund is another unhappy example of a scheme, ostensibly designed for the public good, gone horribly wrong. Operated by the lawyers themselves, it has degenerated into little more than a cheap and grossly misleading PR exercise. Before they will take on a case attorneys routinely demand that clients deposit large sums – hundreds of thousands of rands – “up front” in their attorney’s trust account to cover their anticipated fees. As the system now operates, should that money be stolen, the victim must hire another attorney, pay up front again (but this time double the amount: first to reinstate his original case with a new lawyer, and then to sue his old attorney) before he can turn to the Fidelity Fund as “insurer of last resort”. It may reasonably be assumed that most victims of attorney fraud have neither the money nor the stomach for all that, effectively absolving the Fidelity Fund of any liability.
If the legal profession had any self respect, their fidelity fund would be the primary insurer of their members’ probity, since they have the professional resources – and the most leverage – to recover money from deviant colleagues.
Cost of crime
In recent weeks various European countries have begun demanding that South African visa applicants pay large sums in additional visa clearance fees. Every South African who wishes to visit the UK must obtain a visa that costs R1000! “Why are we being victimised in this manner?” asks noseweek reader Arnold Taylor in Durban.
Simple: It’s the cost of crime. Corruption in our Department of Home Affairs is so pervasive that our passports and ID documents simply cannot be trusted. To ensure their own safety, those countries now feel they need independently to verify identity and repute – which process costs money.
Another example. Noseweek, like most publications, has its circulation figures certified by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. In effect, our own auditors audit noseweek’s sales figures according to a procedure prescribed by the ABC. Until last year the process was pretty straightforward and cost less than R8,000 in audit fees. Then staff at one of the country’s largest publishing houses, Media24, devised a fraudulent scheme to boost their circulation figures – effectively, to defraud their advertisers. They were caught, reprimanded and fined. But no-one was arrested or went to jail – so who, in a big corporation, cares? But now no publication is trusted, and ABC has devised an elaborate new audit system that operates on the assumption that we are all criminals. This year noseweek’s auditor reckoned he was justified in charging R48,000 – six times the previous amount – for the audit now required. That’s the cost of white collar crime.
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