Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula said Cabinet has not yet taken a decision on e-tolls, this despite statements by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni that the user-pay principle must apply.
The transport minister briefed media on Thursday afternoon to clarify any confusion created on the e-tolls, since the tabling of the medium-term budget policy statement.
During Mboweni's speech in Parliament on Wednesday, he said that Cabinet had considered several options to resolve the impasse on e-tolls. "Not paying your e-tolls is not an option. We have to ensure that we honour our obligations. I urge the nation to pay for bills for services rendered," he added.
While Mboweni promoted the user-pay principle, Mbalula said that Cabinet had not taken a decision on e-tolls and is still deliberating on the matter. "The fundamental issue is there is no Cabinet decision to be communicated in terms of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project," Mbalula said.
He said he has been tasked by Cabinet to consider a few options before reporting back in two weeks, where a decision will be taken.
The minister will consult with Gauteng Premier David Makhura, and said he is open to consulting civil society groups like the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA).
E-tolls were set up to fund the upgrading of Gauteng's freeways, but not all road users have been paying the e-tolls and this has racked up debt, Mbalula said.
Among the options being considered include the cancellation of the e-toll system which means government will assume full responsibility of the debt of the scheme. "It means it (government) must find money it does not have," Mbalula said. The improvement of roads will essentially come to a standstill, he added.
A shadow toll system has also been put forward – this means government will partially subsidise the scheme.
A third option is to sell the GFIP debt to a private concessionaire – the concessionaire will have to ensure enforcement happens.
Another scenario is to introduce a public transport fund, which will prioritise public transport on freeways. A hybrid funding model is also on the cards, as is further dispensation of the toll plazas being implemented in Gauteng. The final option is to keep the e-toll system as it is, Mbalula said.
Return on investment
Earlier on Thursday Mboweni briefed Parliament's finance and appropriations committees, where he unpacked what he meant in his speech.
"We have probably communicated this matter wrongly. We have probably spent more time talking of the user-pay principle, which is correct, than the actual substance of the GFIP," Mboweni said.
GFIP is aimed at improving the roads of Gauteng, removing congestion so that there can be movement and business can flow, Mboweni said. "For that improvement we need to make sure that for the investment made there is a return. It is a return on investment for our own benefit really," Mboweni said.