E-tolls split ANC's top 6

2014-09-07 15:01

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The e-tolls saga has split the ANC’s top six.

Transport and Sanral officials have confirmed that Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe ordered them not to co-operate with Gauteng’s e-toll panel review, which his deputy Jessie Duarte supports.

Officials from the national transport department and roads agency Sanral confirmed this week they would not appear before the panel convened by Gauteng Premier David Makhura.

Sanral said it would not participate because all documents relating to how the project came about were publicly available.

However, City Press spoke to six leaders in government and the ANC this week and established that Sanral had been advised by Luthuli House – specifically Mantashe – not to participate in the process.

Gauteng ANC leaders say Mantashe’s deputy Jessie Duarte – a staunch opponent of e-tolls – is the one who gave Gauteng the green light to go ahead with the review, telling those close to her that she “would rather go to jail than pay e-tolls”.

“The instruction came from Luthuli House, from the SG [Mantashe]. The province cannot review national policy, so he told them it would be a waste of time to participate in this thing,” said an insider close to the process.

Asked if he had instructed Sanral not to appear before the panel, Mantashe said the entity did not report to him.

“How did I instruct them? Does Sanral report to me?” he asked.

He said his opinion on e-tolls was that the debate was narrow and focused only on payment when it should be about establishing an efficient transport system.

He also denied that he and Duarte were at odds over e-tolls, saying nameless people were spreading malicious gossip.

“It’s malice to say there is a war between me and Jessie because of e-tolls.” He also said e-tolls were a Gauteng and not a Luthuli House problem.

Popular opinion is strongly weighted against e-tolls in the province, with 11 submissions to the panel this week opposing them and only one in favour.

In March, a survey by the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS Africa) found that Gauteng motorists are not willing to pay e-tolls – even at a reduced rate.

Motorist ire was reflected at the polls, with the ANC in Gauteng recording its worst electoral support in May. The party obtained just 53% of the votes, down from 64% in 2009.

Gauteng leaders attributed the decline to the introduction of e-tolls.

Gauteng government and ANC insiders insisted that the province consulted Luthuli House before going ahead with the review. “We went to Luthuli House and Jessie told us to go ahead. She said she would rather go to jail than pay e-tolls,” said a source close to Makhura.

Duarte refused to comment when contacted yesterday. “I’m not interested in your dramatics or the lies people are telling you,” she said, before ending the call.

A provincial ANC official said the province was forced to act because e-tolls had cost them dearly at the polls. He said national government and Luthuli House were warned about the system but the province’s pleas fell on deaf ears.

“You cannot just ignore this thing or bury your head deep in the sand. It had an impact on the elections and will still have an impact on future elections. It’s hitting the lower-income earners and the middle class. It’s hitting Africans, people in Soweto who work in Midrand and Sandton.

Can you ignore it as a party contesting the elections?” asked the member of the provincial ANC executive.

The Gauteng government, meanwhile, has clarified that this was not a review, but an impact assessment of the socioeconomics of the e-tolling system.

It set up a 15-member panel chaired by Professor Muxe Nkondo.

Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona said there was no need for the road agency to participate because it was an implementing agency and not a custodian of national policy.

“This is a government-to-government issue. We are bureaucrats; we have a shareholder which is the national department of transport. How do we go and take part in a forum that seeks to review this policy when the shareholder says there’s no review of policy?”

Mona would not respond to claims that they acted on instruction from Luthuli House.

The national department of transport is also not taking part in the process. Transport Minister Dipuo Peters is said to have been taken aback at Makhura’s announcement, which she first heard in his state of the province address.

Peters went to Luthuli House to complain and was told not to take the Gauteng process seriously. In her budget vote speech in July, Peters unequivocally rejected any review of e-tolls.

“The user-pay principle remains the policy of government and no review of either the policy or the legislation governing electronic tolling or any form of tolling has been undertaken by government,” she said.

The ANC NEC previously also invited Sanral to make a presentation on e-tolls. Those who were at the meeting said NEC members strongly backed e-tolling and instructed that it be defended.

Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe – a former minister of transport – is said to have reminded his comrades that the policy dated back to the era of former president Thabo Mbeki and shouldn’t be blamed on Sanral.

Gauteng government spokesperson Thabo Masebe said he was not aware of the stance taken by Sanral and the transport department. He said the panel had hoped to meet them both in its assessment task.

A senior national government official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorised to release the information, said there was an emerging view that Gauteng – because of its opposition to e-tolls – be given back the management of its freeways, along with the R20?billion debt that arose as a result of the upgrading of provincial highways.

“If Gauteng thinks it can manage them better, then Sanral must take the roads back to Gauteng to manage, and the province can then decide what to do with the R20?billion debt.

“Sanral manages 21?000km of roads. It cannot have its image tarnished by just 200km of Gauteng freeways,” the official said.

Another Gauteng ANC official said e-tolls were a symptom of the ruling party’s arrogance which, he said, would ultimately prove costly at the polls.

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