Fuel levy may replace e-tolls

2014-06-29 15:00

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A national fuel levy is likely to replace e-tolling as the ANC back-pedals on its controversial decision to toll Gauteng’s freeways to repay its R20?billion public infrastructure debt.

The governing party is said to be wary of going into the 2016 municipal elections without tackling e-tolling, which has contributed to its electoral decline in the country’s economic heartland. The ANC dropped from 64% in 2009 to 54% in this year’s general elections.

Delivering his state of the province address on Friday, Gauteng Premier David Makhura announced that he would set up a panel “to review the impact of e-tolls and invite new proposals on how we can find a lasting solution to this matter”. He said he was doing this because the government could not “close our eyes to the cries of the sectors of our population who are severely affected by the cost of travelling across the province”.

The decision to review e-tolls has come after the provincial leadership tabled a proposal to the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) lekgotla last month.

A member of the NEC said: “We told them to look at the modalities [of replacing e-tolls] and report back to us.”

Makhura confirmed that e-tolls had been discussed at various levels, including at the ANC lekgotla, saying that his pledge to review the controversial tolling system had not been taken lightly.

He said the review panel would make further announcements on the issue once it had been set up.

However, a Gauteng ANC leader suggested that a national levy was the most viable alternative to the current system. This is even though the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) has opposed the option of a fuel levy, saying that efficient fuel consumption by modern vehicles will result in less revenue than was needed. Sanral has also said that a fuel levy would place a burden on people in other parts of the country who are not using Gauteng’s refurbished freeways.

The Gauteng provincial executive committee (PEC) member said: “The flippant argument that we can’t have a fuel levy in Gauteng is rubbish.

“Gauteng is the hub of the economy and the fuel levy is the most viable option because these are national roads.

“The reason prepaid is popular is because the middle class and the working class prefer it. So there was bound to be resistance to [e-tolling].”

The source said the Gauteng ANC had met the ANC’s top leaders before President Jacob Zuma signed e-tolling into law and were told that the controversial piece of legislation would not be promulgated before the elections.

However, Zuma passed the law last year, paving the way for e-tolling to start on December 3 last year.

The current fuel levy at the pump for petrol is 224.5c (R2.24) a litre for 93 octane petrol and 209.5c (R2.09) a litre for diesel.

This amounted to about R42?billion in the 2012/13 financial year in tax revenue. It is not clear by how much the levy would have to increase to finance the freeway-refurbishment debt.

Voters voiced their displeasure over e-tolling during the elections campaign, prompting Makhura to promise a government review within the first 100 days of his new term in office.

The PEC source said it had become necessary for the matter to be reviewed ahead of the municipal polls.

“Do you want to go to the local government elections [in 2016] with the attitude that the horse has bolted?

“You can’t. Voters have learnt to understand their rights,” said the PEC member.

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