Before the ‘smart’ alecs jump into the comments to claim that I'm an employee of SANRAL, I am not.
Like a growing number of Gauteng motorists, however, I do have an e-Tag fitted to my car's windscreen; I have topped my account up with my real hard-earned money; and I disagree with most of the arguments raised against e-Tolling by the many trolls online.
I think everybody understands the following facts:
1: In terms of the law, e-Tolling is completely legal
2: All state infrastructure is paid for by you and me, through some form of Government taxation (whether fuel levy, VAT or PAYE).
3: Your approval as an individual is not required for each and every act of Government: that's the whole point of democracy. People vote in a Government and delegate their power to it - anything else would result in a hopelessly hamstrung system with no investment ever being made.
I am AMAZED that some people are publicly advocating that others break the law, by deliberately driving on a clearly-signposted tollroad with absolutely no intention of paying. I’m fairly confident that that’s a criminal act in itself – being an accessory to the crime?
The insistence - roughly paraphrased - that 'I demand to see a invoice with photographs of my car passing under the toll booths hand-delivered to me by Jacob Zuma himself' is something I cannot fathom. As I understand it e-Tolling is legislatively different from traffic fines, so are not prosecuted under AARTO’s rules.
Do these people not know that a system doesn't have to work the way they personally want it to, for them to be legally liable to comply with it?
Driving on a toll road with no intention of paying is a bit like shop-lifting: you are deliberately breaking the law with full knowledge, but in these people's case they feel that it's ok right up until the point that a criminal summons is hand-delivered to them.
Something these people also do not address is the REAL crux of the issue: it is my understanding that fuel levies are not ring-fenced, meaning that money intended for road infrastructure is being spent by the Government on other social welfare projects. The situation is so dire, in fact, that Nazir Alli has conceded that South Africa is facing a back-log in road infrastructure investment worth hundreds of millions.
Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this - just like you're allowed to take money from one item of your budget to fund another, Governments can and do shuffle State funds to meet prioritized demands.
If we assume for a minute, then, that the only way that the Government COULD afford to upgrade the Gauteng highways was by taking out a huge loan and implementing a 'Pay As You Use' principle to recoup the expenses, what were the alternatives?
What exactly are the e-Tolling protesters protesting?
1: The Gauteng highways didn't need upgrading. They were perfectly fine as they were.
2: There was in fact money for the highway upgrades, and the Government just implemented e-Tolling to steal more money?
3: There are more efficient means of raising the same funds than e-Tolling, and therefore e-Tolling as a system should be summarily dismissed regardless of the personal legal implications?
Ok, so here’s where I tie all of the above together.
By all accounts, the Gauteng highways DID need upgrading, and the upgrades have been hugely successful in improving traffic flows.
Then are we assuming that we have proof of a massive Government conspiracy, deliberately defrauding innocent citizens: no proof is needed, because the ANC is automatically trying to steal your money all the time, so it follows that e-Tolling is no different?
I don’t have access to all the Government finances – sometimes I get the feeling even the Government itself doesn’t have the full picture – but simple logic does imply that there is most likely a shortage of funding on a national level. There are simply too many poor people and too many social development projects, and not enough tax-payers.
Which brings me back to my earlier question: what is the alternative here? If Nazir Alli had stood up on e-TV News one night – not SABC News, that’s all Government propaganda of course – and with hand-on-heart requested from all Gauteng tax payers their specific permission to invest extra money if they wanted better roads, would the outcome have been better?
No. Not a chance.
Ok, so what makes THIS special? The Government decided to try out the completely novel experience of placing a sub-set of taxation into the control of the citizens, and we have wholeheartedly proven that this was a Very Bad Idea. It’s ironic that we keep demanding transparency from the Government, and yet it appears we’d be happier if they just took the money from us via harder-to-detect means (like fuel petrol price hike written off the ‘rising oil prices’). Well done on that, not.
At the end of the day, the only things lying between a civilized society and complete anarchy are the following: a personal ethical belief that it is a good thing to be law-abiding; and the enforcement of the law.
So far as a province many people in Gauteng have proven just how little they care about the first point, so it’s now time that they discover the second part the hard way (and I understand that there are warning smses doing the rounds, although some of those might be scams by clever con artists).
I’m greatly saddened by the vitriol that the staunchest critics of e-Tolling have targeted at otherwise law-abiding citizens. We don’t hate people for stopping at red traffic lights, even though this holds us up if we’re behind them, but these critics feel that it’s ok to intimidate their fellow citizens with lies and mistruths.
These people have become everything they despise on other news stories: law-breakers, mis-informed, counter-development, fear-mongerers.
However, if YOU are one of these staunch critics, be my guest and run up a huge bill for yourself. Run the gauntlet of law enforcement. Just don’t take it out on ME, at least not before weighing up the points I’ve made here carefully.