Death knell for e-tolls?

2012-05-12 15:44

Sources say state has no option but to scrap tolls

Government has no option but to make a “political” decision and scrap the controversial e-tolling of Gauteng roads for good.

This is according to three highly placed independent sources who are close to negotiations about the future of e-tolling within Sanral, the transport department and the ANC.

A senior executive in a company that was awarded one of the subcontracts for e-tolling told City Press the actual debt owed by Sanral because of the project was R38 billion, R18 billion more than the cost announced late last year.

Insiders said they were not surprised by Sanral chief executive Nazir Alli’s decision to resign this week and believe he was pushed – and did not jump – from the job he has held since 1998.

“(E-tolling) is likely to be scrapped. I think the decision will be political as opposed to purely rational. The problem is how Sanral will repay its almost R38 billion debt,” said the executive.

“More than 1 800 jobs will be lost if the project does not go ahead. Systems worth R1 billion will become redundant. The likelihood of Sanral attracting international ­investors for similar technology-based large projects will diminish and prices (to borrow money) will increase because of the perceived risk of business in South Africa,” said the executive.

It is also believed that Alli’s relationship with Sanral’s new board had degenerated, with the board demanding answers from him about the organisation’s real debt.

“Whatever solution government comes up with will have negative implications for the public, the ANC and government. A fuel levy will increase the petrol price, and taxis will raise their fares and people will pay more for food. Introducing an income tax to cover the cost will further burden the taxpayer,” said the executive.

“The idea is to find a CEO within the next six months. Government’s main objective now is to save Sanral. If you consider the government’s planned infrastructure development programme and that the likely financial source will be debt sourced on the open market, this is worrying. Sanral’s position creates a major financial crisis for government. Somehow government will need to raise the funds to support Sanral,” said an ANC member close to the saga.

“The ANC must decide whether it wants to go ahead with this thing and lose an election or find an ­alternative to servicing the debt,” said the ANC member.

City Press understands that Alli asked for a meeting with the ANC’s national leaders last Saturday to discuss the future of ­e-tolling and get buy-in for the project from the party.

But Alli’s defence of the tolling system is believed to have angered the ANC. Sources said he had difficulty defending tolling and answering questions from the board, Treasury and the department.

“We asked simple questions, like if a motorist from outside Gauteng drives through six gantries and their bill is R20, why would Sanral spend R50 sending his bill via mail and send debt collectors after him if they don’t pay?

There were no clear answers,” said another source within the department of transport.

Neither Sanral spokesperson Priya Pillay, ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza nor Alli had responded to requests
for comment at the time of going to press.

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