The South African National Roads Agency admitted to Parliament on Wednesday morning that it was partly to blame for the resistance to its electronic tolling system on Gauteng's freeways - which has caused it financial headaches - as consulting ahead of the toll introduction was flawed.
Failure to collect adequate revenues from e-tolling, which has met resistance since it was first mentioned in 2012, has impacted on Sanral's audit outcomes as well as its ability to draw capital on the bond markets for other road projects.
The toll was meant to pay for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, which had already been done. However, many Gauteng motorists were surprised to learn that they would be paying for the improvements through the e-toll, and rejected it.
Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula has promised to get to the bottom of the ongoing impasse and President Cyril Ramaphosa established a presidential task team to address the issue. Meanwhile, Minister Tito Mboweni has said motorists should pay up.
Sanral chair Themba Mhambi told a select committee on transport, public service and administration, public works and infrastructure that the mixed messages from various corners of South African society have caused uncertainty which exacerbated non-payment.
"The political uncertainty has not helped us that much over a period of time. On one had, we say people must pay and other hand, we hear important political organisations saying they are not happy with this, over and above OUTA [the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse]," said Mhambi.
Members of the National Council of Provinces serving in the select committee asked Mhambi if the Sanral believed it was responsible for any of the miscommunication which might have worsened non-payment.
"What we are hearing from the committee is that we must carefully analyse the mistakes from the e-toll matter and ensure that we don’t make those mistakes. We do accept some responsibility for the debacle we find ourselves in, particularly from a consultation standpoint," Mhambi replied.
Despite the challenges that lower-than-expected toll collections brought, Mhambi said he was confident that government’s interventions would help get the "albatross off Sanral's back".
Sanral CFO Inge Mulder told the select committee that Sanral was collecting between 25% and 30% of what it was supposed to be collecting on e-tolls.
"Towards the end of last year, we had a shortfall because we couldn’t collect on tolls. Government decided to funnel funds to our non-toll projects because there was no R5.7bn to take from elsewhere," said Mulder.
Mulder said it was critical to improve toll collections, as when Sanral's funds are lower than expected, roads with less traffic end up with less money or end up with their developments and maintenance postponed.
Government is expected to make an announcement following Cabinet's upcoming deliberations, where e-tolling is expected to be discussed.