Stop paying e-tolls and government must scrap them — Outa
Civil action group Outa has called on the small portion of Gauteng highway users that still pay their e-tolls to hit the final nail in the troubled system’s coffin.
That comes after finance minister Enoch Godongwana’s 2021 Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) on Thursday.
Despite transport minister Fikile Mbalula’s claim that a pronouncement on the future for the troubled tolling scheme would be forthcoming, Godongwona never referred to e-tolls during his speech.
Mbalula has repeatedly avoided providing finality on the system’s future from the national government’s perspective, despite the Gauteng government’s opposition to keeping e-tolls.
E-tolls were introduced to cover upgrades that formed part of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), carried out between 2007 and 2011.
However, Gauteng motorists have remained resolute in refusing to pay e-tolls since the system went live in December 2013, citing a lack of proper public participation, a highly inefficient collection system, and concerns over possible corruption.
While the total amount motorists owe to Sanral is unknown, it stood at more than R20 billion in 2019.
The South African National Road Agency (Sanral) has effectively already written off R17.3 billion of this that it was forced to reflect as unrecognised revenue, while another R6.3 billion has been impaired.
Sanral’s board resolved to stop pursuing e-toll debt back in March 2019, while it has also halted court proceedings against Outa that were intended to force e-toll defaulters to pay.
Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage said the organisation was not surprised that there was no mention of e-tolls in the latest budget speech.
“Government has been missing in action on this decision for a few years now,” he stated. “We get the impression that they think if they ignore it, the issue may go away. That’s not going to happen.”
Duvenage said the public has spoken. He maintained that with 85% not paying e-tolls, the government could do nothing about it.
“The state already contributes funds each year to Sanral, which go towards their GFIP bond requirements, which is where we said these funds should have come from since the outset of the debacle.”
In the latest MTBPS, government has shifted another R3.74 billion of the budget from non-toll roads to the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).
Outa said this proved that e-tolls were dead and that government had not made any plan to address the debt.
The organisation urged the 15% of people and businesses still paying to “come to their senses and stop feeding this corrupt scheme”.
“When another 5% drop off the scheme, the state will have no option but to pull the plug,” Duvenage said.
Duvenage added one encouraging sign was that the minister never referred to the “user pays principle” in road financing, which his predecessor, Tito Mboweni, often reiterated.
Duvenage said it doesn’t make sense for the government to hold out on scrapping the system any longer.
“The contracts have expired, and no money collected goes to the bonds which paid for the GFIP,” he said.
“Maybe it’s because there are deals that have been done to favour certain people or entities, with some of the limited revenues generated, but we won’t know.”
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