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Eugene King
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E-tolls: Why the user-pay principle ‘argument’ is flawed

02 December 2013, 12:56

E-tolls, the infamous tolling system in the highways of Gauteng which requires Gauteng motorists to ‘pay for services used’. Going live on the 3rd of December 2013, despite public outcry and displeasure, South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) and the government are hell bent on implementing the system.

The general outcry from the public has always been that 1. They were not consulted properly 2. The system is not even the most effective, and 3. They are already being charged a fuel levy, which is supposed to be used in the maintenance of the roads to begin with. At the beginning, when the public started being aware of the implications of these structures being erected on our highways, the explanation we got from government and SANRAL was that it is simply to collect money to repay the loan incurred in the upgrades.

The argument from the public was and still is, ‘why can’t we use the fuel levy to service this loan?’ Gauteng motorists are generally not against the idea of collecting money in order to repay a loan which was used to upgrade our roads which we are using; the argument is that e-tolls are both ineffective and inconvenient. If the aim is simply to repay the loan, why are toll gantries permanent structures? How long are people going to be charged to use the roads which they are already paying for through tax?

Minister Dipuo Peters came out just two weeks ago to say that the tolls are actually good for business, for business not the electorate? President Zuma said Gauteng motorists must pay the e-tolls, because Gauteng roads are extremely important for the NATIONAL ECONOMY. Anyway, SANRAL has counter argued that the fuel levy method would be ‘unjust’, considering that a motorist from Mpumalanga, Limpopo etc. would also have to be charged, forcing them to pay for roads in Gauteng, which they don’t use. It is my opinion that this SANRAL, fuel levy argument, including Jacob Zuma’s thinking is deeply flawed.

Firstly, let’s start with the Jacob Zuma’s argument, and then end with the SANRAL fuel levy “injustice”. Zuma insist that only Gauteng motorists should pay for the Gauteng roads. But then the reason he gives to support his insistence is that Gauteng roads are very important for the NATIONAL ECONOMY. I find this logic very puzzling, Gauteng roads benefit the whole NATION, but they should only be paid for by Gauteng motorists? This doesn’t make sense at all, and I’m not going to entertain it any further than this.

The National Fuel Levy injustice

At first glance, this fuel levy argument is almost compelling. It is deeply unjust to get people to pay for services which are not rendered to them.  I would deeply be offended if any service provider sent me a bill for services I never used, and never benefited from. I would, understandably and justifiably, cry injustice if I was expected to pay for services I don’t/didn’t benefit from. At close examination though, this argument doesn’t hold at all for SANRAL and the fuel levy.

This fuel levy injustice argument is flawed because:

1.  SANRAL is a NATIONAL ROADS AGENCY which is in charge of NATIONAL ROADS.  

2. The roads which have been upgraded (and subsequently tolled) are NATIONAL roads.

3. Gauteng (and it’s Roads Network) contributes considerably to the NATIONAL ECONOMY.

4. Gauteng citizens’ tax money is used to render services in all other provinces.

1. SANRAL is a South African parastatal responsible for the management, maintenance and development of South Africa's NATIONAL road network. As a national agency, SANRAL is funded from the national treasury (i.e. by the taxpayer) in order for them to discharge their duties and satisfy their mandate. SANRAL is or should be a development arm of the government, funded by the taxpayer to fulfil a mandate to the benefit of the NATION.  

2. These roads that have been upgraded are actually NATIONAL roads. National roads connect major centres of the country and help our economy. Gauteng, as a major economic hub of the country, produces goods which are then distributed to the rest of the country through these roads. The national roads that pass through Gauteng don’t only serve Gauteng motorist, but serve the whole South African population, even those who don’t drive.

3. With a gross domestic product (GDP) valued at R811-billion (US$112-billion), Gauteng province contributes more than 33% to the NATIONAL economy. An estimated 40.6% of South Africa’s manufacturing is done in Gauteng, which means the distribution of these goods to the rest of the country is done through these roads and benefits the rest of the country.    

4. Gauteng already contributes a substantial amount to the NATIONAL tax revenue. Gauteng alone contributes more than 40% of the NATIONAL income tax annually. Gauteng citizens contribute the most to the country’s income tax, which is in turn used to benefit the whole country, not just Gauteng people. The whole NATION derives benefit from the Gauteng tax.

I therefore find it very flawed to argue the ‘injustice’ of a national fuel levy to service a loan for the upgrade of NATIONAL roads passing through Gauteng. If the whole country derives benefit from upgraded national roads passing through Gauteng, how is it unjust to execute a national fuel levy to repay the loan? If Gauteng people’s contribution to the national economy is used to benefit the nation, how is it unjust for the whole country to help service national roads passing through Gauteng?

From my perspective, the injustice here is expecting a Gauteng person to pay an everlasting fee for roads that are used to benefit all; that is the injustice here.


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