No one wants to take responsibility for the scrapping of e-tolls

Both national government and Gauteng provincial government have abandoned their promise to scrap the e-toll gantries. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Both national government and Gauteng provincial government have abandoned their promise to scrap the e-toll gantries. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 24, 2024


THE national government and the Gauteng provincial government have abandoned their promise to scrap the e-tolls gantries.

This was after the Gauteng province this week said Premier Panyaza Lesufi’s promise to switch off the e-tolls was guided by Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana during his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in October 2022.

Godongwana announced the end of e-tolls, saying an alternative funding mechanism would be implemented to address the financing of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) debt, which involved state-allocated funds. The announcement sparked hope among those who have endured the frustration of the e-tolling system for over a decade.

Following the announcement, Lesufi said R6.9 billion would be refunded to those who had paid e-tolls.

The MTBPS also provided R27 476bn for Sanral. This could have seen R3 740bn allocated through the Adjustments Appropriation Act 2022, specifically for the GFIP and R23.736bn through the Special Appropriation Act 2022 for Sanral’s debt redemption fund.

In February 2023, the budget included another R2.2bn for GFIP and the Transport vote referred to the R23 736bn received through the MTBPS towards the Sanral debt as “a partial solution” to the GFIP debt.

The e-toll scheme was switched on in December 2013, but has been a matter of discontent for civil organisations and thousands of Gauteng motorists, who have been opposing it since the first e-toll gantries appeared in September 2010.

Among other reasons for opposing the scheme were the lack of public engagement and its excessive costs of administration. Many Gauteng motorists were made to believe the improvements to Gauteng freeways were budgeted for under the infrastructure improvement costs related to hosting the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup.

During his State of the Province Address in February, Lesufi announced that e-tolls would be switched off by March 31. He also added that the Gauteng provincial government had agreed to pay R12bn towards Sanral’s e-toll debt to finalise the matter.

However, DA Gauteng premier candidate Solly Msimanga has urged Lesufi to come clean about his promise and be clear about when the gantries would be switched off. Msimanga said this is because the switching off of the e-tolls gantries must be gazetted 14 days before the proposed date, and this has not happened. He added that this was a clear sign that e-tolls would stay for the foreseeable future.

“Like his predecessor, David Makhura, Lesufi has made another empty promise,” said Msimanga.

“This is typical of the current administration. This unwanted system of e-tolls was foisted upon the residents of this province and is once again being used as an election ploy for votes,” he added.

Lesufi’s spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said Sanral is a national entity and the provincial government is not responsible for gazetting and switching off the -tolls. He said Lesufi’s remarks were guided by Godongwana’s announcement.

“He responded because the province supported the scrapping of e-tolls. But this is the responsibility of the national government. As the provincial government, we established a technical team to resolve and negotiate to pay 30% of the outstanding debt. We negotiated this from 60% to 30%,” said Pamla, who added that the province cannot give clarity on the scrapping of e-tolls.

Asked if a decision had been reached on the scrapping of the gantries, the National Treasury has referred this paper to Lesufi’s office.

Department of Transport spokesperson Collen Msibi said he would revert, but failed to respond. Sanral also did not respond.

Previously, former Gauteng premier David Makhura and former Transport minister Fikile Mbalula also promised that the issue would be dealt with.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) said since February 2019, its lawyers had been defending 2 028 cases on behalf of e-toll defaulters who received summonses from Sanral, with a total value of R262 590 million. The organisation said of these, 1 929 cases with a total value of R112 276m were brought in magistrate’s courts, with 99 cases in the high court valued at R150 315m.

“An aspect of this case is challenging the constitutionality (therefore the lawfulness and enforceability) of the e-toll scheme. In March 2019, Sanral’s board passed a resolution to stop e-toll summonses and in the meantime, all these cases have been ‘placed on hold’, leaving the legal matter in limbo,” said the organisation.

Outa’s CEO Wayne Duvenage said the organisation would continue to defend every motorist who receives a summons from Sanral for outstanding e-toll debt, provided they give Outa the mandate to do so, and that Outa has the funds to do so.

“We will not merely accept the government’s irrational plan to collect debt on their inefficient, costly and largely unworkable system, especially since they themselves announced that e-tolls will be cancelled,” Duvenage said.

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