This Friday marks the end of the period for public comment on the tariffs for Gauteng e-tolls, where after Minister of Transport,Dipuo Peters, now has to consider the comments submitted. When she has done so, the Minister must publish in the Government Gazette the final tariffs, along with a date for the start of e-tolls.
OUTA believes there will be far fewer submissions issued from the public this time around, as previous contributions to the eToll tariffs, on no less than two prior occasions, were graced with no feedback to the public. “What is the purpose of these input sessions, if no published response to the public to acknowledge the extent of feedback and general summary of the content and input provided?” says Wayne Duvenage, Chairman of OUTA.
In November 2012, the Department of Transport indicated they received over 11,000 submissions on the tariff notices. In addition, they received verbal feedback during three public engagement sessions. Then again on 24 May this year proposed tariffs and draft regulations for e-tolls were published for public comment. Apart from the tariffs, there were no less than five sets of regulations covering everything from how to affix an e-tag to exemption for public transport vehicles.
The period for public comment ended on 23 June and again, there was silence as the Minister considered the comments. On 9 October the final regulations were published. Unlike the tariffs, the regulations were not open for further public comment.
This means that members of the public were unable to know what comments had been submitted on each of the draft regulations, nor what the response of the Minister was to them. An interested member of the public could do no more than compare the drafts with the final versions to try and identify changes. Even then, the process would not reveal which changes had been promoted by a comment from a member of the public, and even less what comments had been made which had not been accepted.
That is water under the bridge, though it is a matter which should be addressed in any future public participation exercise – and not only in the case of e-tolls.
This time around, the Minister has an opportunity to show that she is fully committed to assessing and involving the opinions of the public and when publishing the final toll tariffs, the Minister should at the same time produce a commentary of what the public has said – in response to her invitation to comment – and what her response is to those comments.