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E-TOLLS BATTLE: Outa and Sanral continue to battle regarding e-tolls in Gauteng. Image: iStock.
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Could it be that recent hints from ETC of some sort of amnesty or reprieve to those with massive e-toll bills might have something to do with another desperate attempt to breathe life into the defunct scheme? asks Wayne Duvenage.
ago, on December 3, 2013, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral)
took a gamble and proceeded to launch its controversial e-toll scheme, despite
three prior years of public outrage, highway blockades and launch delays since
the public became aware of the scheme in 2010.
is probably the single most reported on matter, certainly by the Gauteng media,
than any other since democracy.
Sanral's own advisors warning of the serious consequences and risks pertaining
to possible civil defiance which might raise the costs of collection to
unaffordable levels, they were prepared to slog it out. Sanral believed that a
multi-million-rand marketing campaign that included coercive messages of
criminal charges and threats of denied licence renewals for those who had ideas
of not paying, would ultimately scare the motoring public into obeying the law.
did and horribly so. By mid-2014, six months after the scheme's
multiple-delayed launch, compliance peaked at a mere 40% and contrary to Sanral's
misleading claims the Gauteng motoring public were not rushing off in droves to
get tagged. From there on, once the public became aware of their strength on
this issue, compliance levels began to decline. Not even a 60% discount with
six months to settle outstanding debt in 2015 could entice those with mounting
bills to come on board.
continued and eventually stabilised at around 25% to 27%, mainly due to
businesses who did not want to go against the government grain, thereby keeping
the scheme on life support.
has to ask what compels Sanral (or government) to keep the scheme in place?
After all, the five-year tender contract period to manage the collection
services with the Electronic Tolling Company (ETC) has now expired, removing
the contractual obligation excuse espoused in the past.
As for the
bonds that need to be paid, government can very easily negotiate a new
arrangement with the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) bond holders. It's not
as if the PIC is going to pull the plug on their own masters. Besides, government
funds 86% of Sanral's freeways though existing Treasury grant mechanisms,
supported by the fuel levy. All they need to do is apply this same process to
an extra 1% of Sanral's freeways and the PIC bonds issue will be addressed.
Could it be
that recent hints from ETC of some sort of amnesty or reprieve to those with
massive e-toll bills might have something to do with another desperate attempt
to breathe life into the defunct scheme? Could this explain why Minister of
Transport Blade Nzimande did an about turn on his original announcement that
spoke of putting an end to the scheme shortly after his appointment in March?
Or is the plan to limp on closer to the elections for a political announcement
to pull the plug on e-tolls?
of e-tolls for political point-scoring would go down as an unconvincing farce.
Additionally, any plans of an amnesty would be very short-lived and go down as a
"different deal – same e-toll debacle".
carrot may entice some to join up, but still the majority will not pay and any
attempt to enforce by withholding vehicle licence renewals through an amendment
to the AARTO regulations, will be challenged both constitutionally and with
more public defiance. Dragging the e-toll civil disobedience campaign into the vehicle
licencing space will be a disaster too big for both national and local
government to comprehend.
What makes December
3, 2018 an interesting date, is that Sanral has not reissued the tenders for
the next five-year e-toll collections period. Nor has it explained how or if it
managed to allow the period of operation services to be extended beyond that
which is reflected in the ETC contract. For all intents and purpose, e-toll
collections are now being operated illegally.
expect a learning government to engage with civil society to find a solution to
the e-toll debacle, especially when the leading civil society organisation that
has led the fight against the scheme has displayed a constructive approach with
Parliament and other institutions of government to challenge maladministration
and corruption within the state. The mind boggles to think that the
Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has yet to be approached by senior government
officials on what their approach would be to resolve the e-toll debacle.
the e-toll scheme limps on is another day of mounting debt and another day lost
to introducing an alternative solution, which in this case does exist. It just
needs to be decided on and implemented. As they say in the classics, it's never
too late to undo a bad decision.
Duvenage is CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).
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