Message to all our members
February 2016 will go down as an extremely positive and active month in many respects for OUTA. The most positive to note was the formal announcement and press conference to launch our new name and broader mandate, whilst sharing a number of our new focus areas.
Now known as the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (still OUTA), we remain extremely focused on the e-Toll matter, whilst now looking into and applying our effort into other SANRAL related matters, along with Eskom, Redisa (Tyre recycling tax), Nuclear Energy, Carbon tax and more to come. This however, is only possible with the added people and process capacity now on board.
Another element of heightened energy of late, was OUTA’s research and position paper on the high costs of road construction (see the article in this month’s edition of Inside OUTA). This is a damning report against SANRAL and highlights why the e-toll decision should never have been made in the first place. It also opens serious questions as to why and how it is, that our tax money is being squandered by SANRAL, just as it is in so many other state owned entities.
February also saw the launch of OUTA into the Eskom debate, the ‘tariff hike’ hearings and our appointment of Ted Blom (and others) to the OUTA Energy Desk. We will be developing our capacity in this space, to also look at the nuclear energy issues and other matters, as is indicated in the related article herein.
The ongoing threats from the Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) and ITC Business Administrators (a collection company and not a debt listing agency) have been defeated by an counter information program by OUTA, which was also the feature of an opinion piece I wrote for the Daily Maverick on 1 March.
Finally, the OUTA team is extremely energized by the rapidly growing membership and public funding support, which is ultimately the blood that enables us to grow and do our work. Tens of thousands of people, giving small amounts each month (through debit orders and recurring EFT’s), is the ultimate active citizen program that empowers us. Several hundred businesses have also joined OUTA’s membership program (through our Business Membership portal) and this is adding to our collective strength.
As our donations grow, we increase our research, investigative and legal capacity to take more action, more projects and thereby make a bigger difference through effective civil intervention. We can only thank all our contributing members for their active citizenry and we hope to make you feel proud of your action and support.
The South African government doesn’t get it, does it? It believes the non payment of e-tolls is because of affordability and not public resentment. How astounding!!!
David Makhura, Gauteng province premier made one rather bewildering pronouncement during his State of the Province Address (SOPA) in February, wherein he expressed that the low uptake of e-tolls payment was a result of affordability, rather than civil disobedience.
How astounding is that now!!
Either Makhura is not in touch with reality or as he’s denying the plain truth, both of which are worrying characteristics of government officials. Ever since SANRAL mooted the idea of erecting gantries on Gauteng freeways, civil organisations were adamant this money spinning project will fail, for a number of reasons. Even David Makhura himself raised a concern in 2011, that the e-Toll decision would not be a good idea for the people of this region.
From labour bodies, civil groups to faith based organisations, the e-toll system was opposed as an effective user-pays mechanism to achieve the aims of servicing the bonds. The public outcry has been loud and clear for two years before the scheme was switched on, and despite this, they forged ahead, blindly believing that the public would just fall into line.
They ignored the calls from civil society and the public to seek more efficient and convenient alternative options to fund the road upgrades.
SANRAL saw no logic on the arguments brought forth by those opposed to e-tolls. Instead, they bulldozed their already madeup mind on the matter and their dictatorial, boorish tendencies set the tone for a drawn out arrogant stand-off with the motorists of Gauteng.
But let’s cut Premier Makhura some slack here. There is some truth in his claim about the affordability argument. There is no doubt that many can’t afford the costs anyway. Cde Makhura, as you know, the cost of living is high and people are making choices on what makes their priority list. E-Tolls appears to have fallen off their shopping list.
What makes Mr Makhura’s argument very weak, is his failure to listen to the wishes of the people. He has made a complete u-turn from his initial indications to challenge the system. His anti-e-toll stance has has been dropped and now he is defending the scheme. He sits back and does not condemn the continued threats from SANRAL’s collection agents, pressuring the public to make a choice – settle a multi-thousand rand outstanding e-toll bill, or give their children less food to eat.
We think, in fact we know, that in the back his mind, he knows the truth. But politics has got the better of him and sadly, power has once again superseded the call of moral courage. But on this one Mr Makhura, you lose. Big time.
The motoring public has largely heeded the call by Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) to disregard messages to pay e-tolls or have their vehicles listed.
The Gauteng motoring public has largely heeded their conscience and the call by Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) to disregard the threats from the Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) company, to pay their e-toll bills or face a heightened collection process and have their vehicles listed. OUTA’s response to this rhetoric is that their behaviour is preposterous. Like going into battle with blank cartridges, the public have feared the sight of their so-called firearm, until their hollow plans were exposed by OUTA.
SANRAL contracted debt collectors, Electronic Tolling Company (ETC) who have been sending SMS messages shrouded with threats and intimidation to the public. Despite sending these message which have been labelled as sheer harassment and intimidation, SANRAL have failed grimly in coercing the public to buy into its irrational user-pays toll fees.
The public responded to OUTA’s media releases with anger thrust SANRAL’s way. A Johannesburg resident, Ms M Rae commented “I never have and never will sign up for e-tolling. I don’t have a contractual agreement with these people and they cannot show me a single document with my signature or consent on it. A contract is a two way street. I will not pay a cent that I don’t owe. “
A motorist from Kromdraai in Gauteng, Mr W Steyn, said the threats to impound his vehicle by SANRAL will not compel him to pay the tolls. “If and when these criminals decide to withhold my vehicle license, I will continue driving with an unlicensed vehicle as they do not deserve one cent from the civilized citizens of this country,” he added.
Related sentiments have been shared by many motorists who vented their frustrations on OUTA’s social media platforms denouncing SANRAL’s actions in the strongest terms.
“ Citizens should be free to travel in their country – they should rather spend it on starving families and housing with children,” says Ms H Winning. Another Johannesburg resident, Mr Campbell reinforced the general argument put forward by the public that e-tolls should be funded through fuel levy and not from citizens’ hard earned cash. “I agreed to nothing in writing and I will never pay one cent in e-tolls. Every time I pay for fuel, I pay for road maintenance…,” he said.
The public’s tenacity against e-tolls has been a direct result of SANRAL’s arrogant reluctance to seek alternative avenues to fund to the expensive tolling regimen. The “you will pay no matter what” attitude from SANRAL will compound the suffering of the majority who are fed up with Government’s continuous taxation and reluctance to deal with corruption.
Thousands of Gauteng motorists and businesses are relieved by the fact that a collective approach to support OUTA’s e-Toll Defence Umbrella campaign, will provide them with OUTA’s legal team’s support. These people no longer fear individual prosecution, as the e-toll defensive mechanism seeks to defend every case of e-toll prosecution within OUTA’s contributing membership base, if any of their members were to be prosecuted for non-payment of e-tolls.
Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) was overpriced by 321
percent, according to a latest expose’ by Organisation Undoing Tax
We announced our findings at a press conference in February, where we unveiled a 29-page research and position paper on the benchmarks and comparisons of the GFIP project, to 11 case studies, involving hundreds of road construction projects around the world.
For the past four years OUTA has raised a red flag on the seemingly high costs of the GFIP, which SANRAL continuously dispelled as a non-issue.
The latest revelation by OUTA, despite the SANRAL Spokesman – Mr Vusi Mona’s – claim that there were no road construction benchmarks that they knew of, showed that the World Bank’s ‘Road Cost Knowledge System’ (ROCKS) research, containing data from 65 developing countries on road construction and maintenance costs around the world. SANRAL were clearly burying their heads in the sand on this matter, as a thorough assessment would have revealed where they rank in comparison to like-for-like assessments of road construction projects. OUTA studied eleven case studies which culminated in our findings that shows how the South African public has been grossly overcharged for the Gauteng Freeway upgrade (2008 to 2011).
“The research went to lengths to ensure that we factored in conversions from miles to kilometres and applied the Rand exchange rates applicable in 2010, when the bulk of the GFIP project was nearing completion,” says Duvenage.
“We also added in year on year inflation rates at 7% and ensured that we converted all studies in lane kilometre widths to that of a ‘Centerline’ length per kilometre costs and reflected the average number of lanes on the GFIP project to 9 lanes. We also only compared the pure road construction costs, leaving out the costs associated and estimated to the GFIP interchanges, median lighting and bridgework, so as to ensure the exercises was a close to the actual GFIP project as we could possibly get.” The research shows that in every instance of benchmarking, the GFIP project at R17,9 billion for the road only, excluding the tolling related expenditure has been overcharged by between 236% (the lowest differential comparison to the Idaho Department of Transport report) and 932% being the highest differential to the GFIP cost – being a comparison to the TransKalahari road project in Namibia .
OUTA’s assessment has generously pitched the real GFIP cost at being no higher than R7 billion rand, which is substantially lower than SANRAL’s price tag of R17,9bn. This is just another arrow in the public’s quiver of shots that will be fired across the bow, in the event of SANRAL’s attempts to threaten OUTA’s members. Link to the research position paper is here: Download PDF
In a response to ETC’s recent claims that they were approaching some of their
large outstanding debtor’s to settle their bills, OUTA maintains that “Companies
and people settling e-toll debt are wasting their money.”
“ Threats by the Electronic Tolling Collection (ETC) through its contractor ITC-Business Administrators to summons a ‘selection of motorists’ with high outstanding e-toll bills, risks sinking SANRAL’s entire e-toll ship through the collateral challenge that will ensue from even a single attempt at prosecution or summons against an OUTA member,” says Wayne Duvenage, OUTA chairman.
“Our e-toll defence umbrella has one objective that it will fight hard for – being that not a single motorist or business within our member base will be successfully prosecuted by SANRAL or its agents. Not even one. We have been preparing for this for years, and will not pull punches in our defence of motorists who give us the mandate to defend them from SANRAL’s abusive, irrational and unlawful e-toll scheme”, says Duvenage.
Director of Legal Affairs at OUTA, Advocate Ivan Herselman says the organisation is ready to pounce on the government and SANRAL, if they so much as haul one of its members to court.
“We have lined up technical, administrative and other significant defences and will subpoena everyone from Nazir Alli, Jeff Radebe, the chairperson and treasurers of certain trusts, whistleblowers, the board members (past and present) of Sanral and many others to come and testify. We have damning evidence of unlawfulness and irrationality beyond common sense and it is about time that these nonsensical threats are put to bed, once and for all,” says Advocate Herselman.
In September 2013, the Supreme Court expressed that it cannot rule on the legality of the introduction of e-tolling until such time as a motorist is summoned for non-payment, at which time a collateral challenge can be launched as a defence.
A collateral defence obviates the technicalities in Administrative Law, which allowed SANRAL to escape last time, and OUTA will therefore be allowed to bring previous court evidence gathered, past judgments against SANRAL on their unlawful conduct as well as significant other matters which have arisen since it’’ past court challenge, into a fresh case.
According to Advocate Herselman, OUTA will also be pursuing cost orders against ETC and SANRAL, for any frivolous litigation against its members. “These ITC threats are purely an intimidation tactic. If ETC are stupid or unfortunate enough to summons a member of OUTA’s, they can expect to pay the price for pursuing a lawsuit they should have known to be weak in legal merit,” said Herselman.
ETC through their COO at the time, Mark Ridgeway, claimed that nonpayers are in “the minority,” whilst announcing plans to list vehicles to add an encumbrance of e-toll debt on vehicles to make it more difficult to sell the vehicle. “
Vehicles cannot accrue toll fees, owners do,” says Duvenage.” ETC’s delusional claims of a functioning ‘vehicle listing’ process and its imagined ‘coordination’ with the motor industry is complete fabrication. The e-tolls scheme has been widely rejected and condemned by every formal sector of the motor industry. “
The increase of electricity in excess of 700% in the past 10 years is
superfluous, says OUTA which is rallying the public to help stop madness at Eskom.
National Energy Regulator (NERSA) on Tuesday 1st March, gave Eskom the green light to hike electricity tariff by 9.4% in the 2016/17 year. Through its preliminary investigations, OUTA unmasked many discrepancies within Eskom ranging from excessive payment costs of coal and diesel to overvaluation of assets resulting in higher electricity tariffs.
“It appears that NERSA deem the 8% per annum increase granted to Eskom as an unconditional increase. OUTA is of the opinion that this interpretation is unlawful as it would result in the regulator unable to apply its mind if information surfaced indicating that a tariff increase of less than 8% is justifiable or even a decrease in tariffs,” says Ivan Herselman, OUTA Legal Affairs Director.
A team of lawyers, energy experts and economists have been engaged by OUTA to analyse NERSA’s decision to approve electricity tariff increase. The problem that OUTA and many civil action organisation shave, is the lack of transparency and freely available information about the goings on within Eskom and other state owned entities. For some peculiar reason, these state owned entities believe that their information is not required to be known by the public. They appear to be oblivious to the fact that the public are their main shareholders.
“We anticipate that Eskom will refuse with this information, as it is likely to expose maladministration and possibly corruption,” says Advocate Herselman. “It is in the public interest that these documents are given to OUTA or made public and analysed in depth by OUTA’s team and members of the public.” Advocate Herselman says that through backing from the public, Eskom is compelled to release the documents concerning its operations as it is an entity funded with tax payer’s money.
“Public interest is the counter argument we will be using if we need to go to court, to get the documents,” he said. “The best way for us to show that it is not only us who believe it to be in the public interest, is if the public state that they believe it is in the public interest.”
OUTA has outlined a multi-faceted approach towards Eskom that includes launching of an application through the Promotional of Access to Information Act (PAIA) for all contracts Eskom has with the suppliers of coal, diesel and transport and analyse these contracts to determine the beneficiaries of of the inflated goods and services and what the cost to the public is
A PAIA application for the bid documentation will be launched resulting in the appointment of the persons providing diesel and coal. OUTA will also initiate a PAIA application in order to obtain and analyse performance information regarding the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity by Eskom in order to be able to determine whether the costs of electricity generation, transmission and distribution can reasonably be passed onto consumers.
In all the cases, OUTA will take legal action to obtain information if Eskom withholds information.
OUTA to establish a safe whistleblower portal
In a bid to tackle corruption, Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) has initiated the design of a whistleblower portal that will give access to employees and insiders who are willing to lift the lid on graft activities at their workplace.
The initiative which falls into OUTA’s expanded mandate into undoing tax abuse, recognises the important role that whistleblowers play in unearthing unlawful behaviour, maladministration and corruption in the public and private sector.
Through this portal OUTA will protect employees working for entities – under its scope of investigation – from possible discrimination and dismissal in worst scenarios.
A number of whistleblowers are withholding vital information relating to corruption and maladministration in state run enterprises, purely out of fear of occupational detriment and not being sure of who they can turn to, without exposure or having the support and knowledge of the defensive shield that lies within the Protected Disclosures Act.
Despite the presence of this legislation many entities have victimised whistleblowers and through its team of legal experts, OUTA will use the law to protect whistleblowers proactively and reactively.
“Proactive protection of whistleblowers can be achieved by making sure the information is submitted safely and securely, stored safely and securely and that all actions to be taken with the information receive prior approval of the whistle blower,” says Advocate Ivan Herselman, OUTA Director for Legal Affairs.
“OUTA makes use of sophisticated offshore encrypted servers for electronic safekeeping of information and for safekeeping of physical information we use undisclosed offsite storage facilities. Our telephones, computers and networks are also screened and secured regularly to ensure calls or information is not being intercepted.” Advocate Herselman outlined OUTA’s reactive protection strategy that entails the provision of legal teams and payment of legal costs on behalf of whistleblowers.
“As part of our re-active protection strategy, we provide the legal teams and pay for all the costs of legal action required to be taken against the employer for any form of damage suffered by the employee,” he said.
OUTA has outlined issues that will solicit the organisations’ consideration after whistleblower information has been passed on and processed. We will not be able to deal with Whistleblower information on every issue provided to us. We can only tackle those areas on cases that we are targeting and working on, more specifically corruption and maladministration within State Owned Entities. Later, as our capacity grows, we will open up the portal to other issues.