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Government passes the e-toll ‘hot potato’ to Gauteng government

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The national government has passed the ball on the controversial e-toll scheme on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) to the Gauteng provincial government for a final decision on its retention or possible scrapping.

Finance minister Enoch Godongwana said on Wednesday that to resolve the funding impasse, the Gauteng provincial government has agreed to contribute 30% to settling the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) debt and interest obligations while government covers 70% of this debt and interest obligations.

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Godongwana said Sanral’s GFIP debt “as of today is R47 billion”.

“Gauteng will also cover the costs of maintaining the 201km and associated interchanges of the roads and any additional investment in roads will be funded through either the existing electronic toll infrastructure or new toll plazas, or any other revenue source within their [Gauteng provincial government] area of responsibility.

“Government proposes to make an initial allocation of R23.7 billion from the national fiscus, which will be disbursed with strict conditions,” he said.

The Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) said the R23.7 billion is allocated to Sanral to pay off government-guaranteed debt but this allocation is conditional on a solution to Phase 1 of the Gauteng (GFIP).

Godongwana stressed the government needs to move on from the debates of previous years about e-tolls and find solutions to this challenge.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said during a media briefing on Monday about the outcome of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and Road Traffic Management Organisation (RTMC) investigations into vehicle licensing and registration problems that he would be hosting a media conference on e-tolls in two weeks.

It appears that Mbalula will provide more clarity on the future of e-tolls then but the transport minister previously indicated that when government scraps something – and he stressed at the time he was not saying e-tolls will be scrapped – it is normally replaced by something else.

Godongwana added on Wednesday that “we have been dilly-dallying” with the e-tolls decision for the past seven years and it has impacted on Sanral’s financial position.

“Therefore we have come to the conclusion that we are going to close this matter once and for all,” he said.

Godongwana said national government cannot prescribe to the Gauteng provincial government what decision it must take about the e-toll scheme.

“If they decide to continue with the tolls purely for or to recover maintenance costs or to look at other resources for funding, we can’t prescribe.

“If they decide to collect [e-tolls] for whatever reason, it’s their own business,” he said.

Godongwana added that government wanted to make sure that Sanral improves its balance sheet and continues to do what it has done — maintaining the roads.

He said it was a decision of the Gauteng Parliament to transfer the GFIP e-toll scheme to national government in line with 2010 FIFA World Cup projects.

“It was not necessarily a national project in the first place but because they did not have the capacity, it was transferred to national.

“Now people don’t want to pay. That is a straightforward thing, which is a political decision,” he said.

Godongwana said the onus is on national government to salvage Sanral and “get it out of the equation”.

Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage said that after a decade of defiance, seven transport ministers and billions in uncollectable debt, government has finally acknowledged the end of e-tolls, with finance minister Enoch Godongwana’s MTBPS including the transfer of R23.7 billion from Treasury to Sanral.

Duvenage said Sanral will get a further R3.74 billion moved from non-toll roads to the GFIP roads through the Department of Transport budget vote.

“This is a clear indication to Outa that the e-tolling of the Gauteng freeways will be halted, and the funding mechanism has been shifted to National Treasury and Gauteng provincial government allocations, a solution Outa proposed to government over a decade ago.

“Outa believes the MTBPS has signalled that Sanral’s pressure to finance the government guaranteed GFIP bonds through the failed e-toll scheme, is now over.

“There is no need for the Department of Transport, or Sanral, to continue with the declaration of the Gauteng freeways as tolled roads. Accordingly, we believe the Minister [Mbalula] will be making an announcement to put paid to the e-toll scheme in the next week or so,” he said.

Duvenage thanked the thousands of motorists for standing their ground alongside Outa’s collateral challenge in the courts against e-toll defaulters, and remains steadfast on this matter.

He said it was Outa’s biggest and longest campaign, which ran for over 10 years and supported by thousands of contributing supporters, representing a massive victory for civil society.

“As far as Outa is concerned, those who didn’t pay e-tolls, will no longer have to pay any outstanding bills.

“Unfortunately for those who paid e-tolls, we believe they will not be able to claim these payments back, as the legislation was not unlawful and was valid at the time. When the toll declaration is withdrawn, it will not be retrospective,” he said.

Duvenage added that Outa’s lawyers are currently representing motorists in 2 028 cases in which Sanral has issued summonses – 99 in the High Court and 1 929 in the magistrates’ courts – to defend claims by Sanral of more than R265.05 million in unpaid e-tolls bills.

He said Outa is continuing this defence until these matters are formally removed from the court rolls.

Duvenage said that in the end, it was an extremely costly war between Outa and the government, which government lost.

“But, as it is with all government mistakes, the people will have to pick up the costs,” he said.

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