E-Toppled

2012-04-28 17:53

A historic victory for a united ­citizenry.

This is how yesterday’s ruling by the North Gauteng High Court was described after Judge Bill Prinsloo interdicted the ­government from implementing an expensive R6.2 billion e-tolling scheme this week.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), a civil society group inspired by the stories of four citizens who would have ­suffered from the implementation of e-tolling, yesterday defeated the SA National Road Agency (Sanral) and Minister of Transport Sbu Ndebele in court.

In a hard-hitting judgment, ­Prinsloo referred to the negative impact e-tolling would have had on the lives of Hilda Maphoroma (a cashier), Dennis Tabakin (a pensioner), Tshidi Leatse (a receptionist) and plumber Wayne Osrin.

Prinsloo’s ruling in effect means e-tolling on Gauteng’s highways cannot be implemented until the court has heard a full hearing of the matter – which could only happen in two to three months.

Shortly after the ruling, Cosatu’s general-secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, tweeted: “Biggest lesson is that ‘people united will never be defeated’ – well done for uniting irrespective of other usual differences.”

At a press conference afterwards, Outa chairperson Wayne Duvenage said: “One senses that this may well be the start of a new consciousness within South Africa, where its citizens have been vindicated and their voices heard.”

In reaction to the ruling, Ndebele said he was still studying the judgment but, without the pressure of implementing e-tolls tomorrow, there was no urgency to discuss this in Cabinet.

Yesterday’s ruling is the second blow for Ndebele and Sanral chief executive Nazir Alli this week after Cosatu pressurised the ANC into postponing e-tolling by a month.

Counsel for Sanral and the transport department told Prinsloo this week that postponing the implementation of e-tolling would cost the country R200 million a month.

The contract to design and ­collect e-tolling was awarded by Sanral to a joint venture, led by Austrian conglomerate Kapsch, for R6.2 billion.

“Because of the huge implications, we will study the judgment and report to treasury,” Ndebele told City Press yesterday.

Ndebele said the building of the tolled roads was a decision taken by the Gauteng government and it would not be fair to have other provinces paying for this.

Ndebele said the department’s agreement on Thursday to postpone the tolls to consider more ­input from the public didn’t mean that there was a possibility that tolls would be scrapped.

“Now that we don’t have any ­urgency, we can put all the views on the table and we can say the best argument is going to win,” he said.

A Cabinet minister who did not want to be named said the further delay of e-tolling meant a loss to South Africa’s creditworthiness.

The transport department said in a statement yesterday that it ­respected the court’s decision.

ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza said the ruling party was committed to finding a solution to the ­e-tolling impasse. “It can’t be postponed indefinitely because the idea is to find a solution.

“And anyway, we don’t see a conflict in the court saying e-tolling must be postponed,” Khoza said.

The lawyer representing Outa said “legal history” was made in the North Gauteng High Court yesterday.

At a press conference after Prinsloo interdicted the government from implementing e-tolling, attorney Pieter Conradie said it could take two to three months for a full application to be enrolled at court.

“Government must realise the court is there to protect people, and government must realise they serve the people, and not the other way round,” he said.

Prinsloo yesterday barred Sanral from collecting any tolls because “thousands if not tens of thousands”
of road users are “captives” to the e-tolling system.

Shortly after Prinsloo announced his ruling, Duvenage was in tears, while a grim-looking Alli stalked out of the court, flatly ignoring questions asked by journalists.

Prinsloo said he was in agreement with Outa’s argument that “tens of thousands” of road users would have “little or no choice but to make use of the proposed toll roads”.

“The extent to which they are captive is exacerbated by the acknowledged lack of public transport,” ruled Prinsloo. Prinsloo said this was “hopelessly inadequate as a viable alternative”.

The judge said he was “alive to the fact that Sanral may well suffer considerable financial losses” and that this could result in the downgrading of Sanral to the detriment of its other commitments.

He also said that he had paid “full regard” to the fact that government, through the treasury, may become liable to pay the full R21 billion price tag of the project (road-building and e-tolling), which it stood surety for.

But Prinsloo said he “also couldn’t ignore” the fact that Sanral and Ndebele had postponed the matter five times despite this “projection of calamity”.

Prinsloo said he had to consider the “tens of thousands of businesses, and men and women, and their families” who would suffer ongoing financial loss through the tolling system.

He said the “ongoing and widespread protests underscored this point”.

“I have a sense that this exceptional case, with its particular character and the public interest it has enjoined, should be heard by a review court.”

Salahdin Yacoubi, chief executive of Electronic Toll Collection, which was awarded the tender for e-tolling, said its toll collection contract with Sanral remained valid despite the court ruling.

“We hope at some point in time this will come to an end. Then we will be ready to go ahead (with collections).”

Yacoubi said the ruling afforded motorists more time to buy e-tags and benefit from discounts.

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