E-tolls not my idea – Ndebele

2012-01-15 06:31

Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele has distanced himself from the controversial e-tolling on Gauteng’s freeways which was postponed this week.

In an interview with City Press, Ndebele said Cabinet would listen to all objections to the scheme “without pointing fingers”.

Cabinet was to discuss e-tolling at its lekgotla, scheduled for this week.

Ndebele said he was not surprised that the public opposed the tolls, ­adding that his predecessor, Jeff Radebe, had also refused to approve the proposal from the Gauteng government and “guarantee” the loan for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.

“Government refused three times because the government asked, ‘how are you going to pay for it?’ Three times it was sent to the national government and three times it was sent back to the Gauteng government.

“Everyone that is there now was there except me. I was the premier of KwaZulu-Natal. I didn’t have anything to do with it,” said Ndebele, adding that the process was completed long before he was appointed to his current portfolio in 2009.

This comes as the new SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) board announced this week it was delaying ­implementation of e-tolling, originally planned for roll-out next month.

City Press understands that Ndebele insisted that the new board discuss opposition to e-tolling, after strong reaction from civil society and opposition parties.

The latest postponement by the board, installed in November, did not bode well for Sanral’s insistence that the tolls should go ahead.

Insiders said the fact that only 213 000 of the estimated 2.2 million Gauteng motorists had registered three weeks before the scheduled start of the tariffs, was among the main reasons the board recommended the launch be delayed.

The board’s recommendation ­followed on the heels of the previous board’s unhappiness with the leadership of Sanral chief executive Nazir Alli.

Former board members wrote to Ndebele last year, asking him to reign in Alli for, among others, allegedly­ ­ignoring direct instructions from it.

Ndebele reiterated that government was sympathetic to the “cries” of groups opposing tolls and conceded that the 49c a kilometre tariff – that motorists will be charged – would be a “huge financial burden” on them.

“We will table the petition to Cabinet to say these people are crying that this is heavy, what can be done objectively? It’s not a hostile petition. Cabinet is not going to be dismissive (of those petitions).

“Cabinet will look at all creative ways of lessening the burden without pointing fingers to say you asked for this thing. That’s not the attitude that Cabinet will take,” he said.

But he appealed to opponents of the tolls to also consider that Sanral had to repay the R20 billion debt used for the construction of phase one of the project.

“Phase one is done. Someone has got to pay one way or the other, but it will go to Cabinet again and they will see how to deal with it,” Ndebele said.

“There is no need to persuade us that these tolls will be heavy on people. I think it’s a very heavy burden on the motorist, there’s no question about it.”

A review of the tolls might also mean national Treasury would foot the R20 billion bill by “sacrificing” money from other projects.

“Cabinet will know whether this (government) programme and that programme cannot go ahead at 100% because 10% is taken to cover (the debt). That’s really what we are asking for and everybody is conscious that (Finance Minister) Pravin Gordhan doesn’t remain with change in his pocket (from the budget),” Ndebele said.

Ndebele said the future tolling of any road should be approved by all, including premiers, mayors and the residents concerned.

In October he instructed Sanral not to go ahead with plans to toll various roads, including phase two of the Gauteng project and the construction of the R10 billion Winelands project in Cape Town.

Cosatu was forging ahead with plans for mass action against the tolls next month.

“We are still urging motorists not to buy e-tags and not to register for tolling accounts.

“Government has to find another alternative to the tolling burden,” said spokesperson Patrick Craven.

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