Ndebele cans e-tolling launch

2011-11-05 19:23

But transport minister feels he’s been ‘left out in the cold’

Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele feels “left out in the cold” about his hardline stance on the implementation of the expensive e-tolling system for South Africa’s roads.

But the minister is not about to back off.

This week he cancelled the “soft launch” of the system on Gauteng’s freeways.

A programme to promote the controversial open-road tolling project was scheduled for yesterday, but two independent sources involved in the project told City Press it was cancelled after Ndebele intervened.

The minister is under increasing pressure to manage the fallout over the project, and he is now planning to rein in the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral).

The postponement of yesterday’s launch has raised eyebrows at Sanral and its service provider, the Electronic Tolling Collection joint venture. Pressure is mounting to roll out the tolling system in three months’ time.

Sanral spokesperson Priya Pillay declined to comment, saying a launch would be announced through the media in due course.

A source with inside knowledge of the project said: “The minister feels he’s been left out in the cold by everyone.” Ndebele now fears he could become the fall guy for e-tolling if the project goes through. “This has turned into a political football,” the source said.

In mid-October, Ndebele announced the cancellation of e-tolling until a better funding model was found.

But he had to clarify his statement this week to confirm that the first stages of e-tolling in Gauteng would go ahead.

Ndebele’s initial announce-ment, which included the cancellation of open-road tolling in the Western Cape, is understood to have unsettled parties interested in the possibility that the tolling system may be canned.

Tension is mounting around the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) and the ANC in Gauteng has also questioned the logic of going through with the project.

The party fears that resistance to e-tolling could result in civil disobedience, while labour federation Cosatu plans to embark on mass action.

It is understood that Sanral would have used the soft launch to test and promote e-toll customer service centres, e-tag outlets and payment methods.

City Press understands that Ndebele will this week announce a Roads Funding Summit in an attempt to find solutions to how the country’s roads infrastructure projects should be funded.

Ndebele is apparently prepared to take “drastic steps” if the summit finds alternatives to the current funding model, the source said.

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, who has also distanced herself from the project, has convened a consultative summit for next Friday.

When Ndebele took over the transport portfolio in the middle of the project in 2009, he had to compel Sanral officials to reveal that it would take eight years to repay the R20 billion loan used for the project, a source told City Press.

This occurred at a stakeholder summit where Ndebele also questioned Sanral about how they had arrived at a charge of 66 cents per kilometre, an amount which was later reduced by the Cabinet.

“Ndebele wants more control of Sanral because they have undermined government by taking decisions without properly consulting the transport department,” said the source.

Sanral said if the agency was unable to repay the R20 billion loan, this would result in a “negative” impact on the agency and country’s credit rating.

A senior transport department official who asked to remain anonymous said that a lowered credit rating for Sanral would result in the agency not being able to apply for loans to finance projects.

The SA Transport and Allied Workers Union said they would embark on mass action if e-tolling goes ahead. 

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