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OUTA lambastes parliamentary portfolio committee for misleading statement

OUTA will be lodging a formal complaint with the Chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport, as well as the Parliamentary Ethics Committee, seeking an apology and retraction of elements within the misleading statement released by the committee on Tuesday 26th January, following OUTA’s presentation to the Committee regarding the failed e-toll scheme, and why it ought to be scrapped.

OUTA is astonished and incensed at the Acting Chairperson Mr Ramatlakane’s sanction of the statement which reads: “The Portfolio Committee on Transport heard today that the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) is not opposed to e-tolling as people need to pay in order to have good road infrastructure. Mr Wayne Duwenage (sic), OUTA Chairperson, told the Committee that OUTA supported the user-pay-principle but there was a lack of consultation when the e-toll system was introduced.”

It’s disappointing that the committee would have to stoop to this level of fabrication in an attempt to try and inject some degree of legitimacy to the defunct scheme. “This is utter misinformation and spin doctoring at its worst” says Wayne Duvenage, OUTA’s Chairperson.  “I stated at the outset of OUTA’s presentation that we are not opposed to the fact that all infrastructure must ultimately be paid for by society. It’s a fact of life that people’s taxes in one form or another are used to pay for all infrastructure. I made this point so as to dispel the myth and comments often directed at us, that ‘OUTA wants the roads for free’, which is clearly not the case.”

Duvenage goes on to say, “I then proceeded to present a 30 slide overview of why the e-toll scheme has failed and our views as to why this is so, along with our opinion that the fuel levy made sense as an alternative to the fund the Gauteng freeway upgrade.  I ended the presentation with two important points, the first of which was that following all the reasons and facts presented, the e-toll scheme should be halted. Secondly, I highlighted to the committee that caution should be exercised when considering the recently proposed amendments to the Aarto regulations. Our concern on the proposed Aarto amendments, is the attempt to include e-Toll non-payment as a traffic infringement with which to withhold vehicle license renewals. If passed, we believe Government will indirectly be providing the motoring public with every right to carry the e-toll tax revolt into the vehicle licensing tax arena. The vehicle license tax is a justified tax and one that has high compliance levels. To taint this just tax with the failed e-toll scheme will be an unwise decision.”

Duvenage adds “In fact, at the end of my presentation, Mr Leonard Ramatlakane (the acting Chairperson of the Committee) indicated that I had contradicted myself by saying we were not opposed to paying for roads, yet we advocated that the e-toll scheme should be scrapped. I then went to lengths to explain to him that our position is to pay for the roads through other efficient tax mechanisms, such as general taxation and the fuel levy and that our stance is very clear on the scrapping of the e-toll scheme.  It therefore leaves me to express my disgust and disappointment of the committee’s blatant misrepresentation of our presentation by use of the words “OUTA is not opposed to the e-tolling” and ”OUTA supported the user-pay-principle”, emphasis on the, being in reference to the e-tolls user pays scheme, as opposed to the fuel levy, user pays scheme.

“During the presentation, I also provided clarity on why the fuel levy makes complete sense as an alternative to the defunct e-toll scheme.  I also stated that it was hypocritical of Government to say that the fuel levy is not a favoured mechanism because it impacts the poor harder, when they have gone ahead and increased the fuel levy by 92% over the past eight years.  Furthermore, there are economists who denounce the claim that e-tolls will have a lesser impact on the poor than the fuel levy.  What’s more, our calculations show that a mere R0.09c increase in the levy in 2007 – when the e-toll GFIP project was in its final planning stages – would have produced sufficient revenue to cover the full capital costs of the GFIP project by today.  In our opinion, the logic and rationale of the anti-fuel levy argument for urban roads, in favour of the failed e-Toll scheme, is a very weak one”.

In the presentation, OUTA also highlighted the signs of an unworkable scheme, listing one of the pointers of this fact being that even the exempt taxi community, of which 46,000 taxis who were issued with e-tags, had shunned the system by not fitted these tags to qualify for the exemption.  It is unfortunate that MP Patrick Sibanda took this statement to mean that OUTA does not want the taxis to be exempt from tolls.  He clearly didn’t get the message of the point we were making, and went on to say we were not concerned about the poor, which is far from the truth.

In addition, Mr Sibanda stated that OUTA’s stance of supporting those who were boycotting e-tolls, was tantamount to protecting criminals.  Our response to this comment by Mr Sibanda at this time is that every individual who is boycotting the e-toll scheme has a right to do so, as the scheme is unjust and has been introduced unlawfully, and until such time as a collateral challenge on the matter is heard in court, those who are acting in defiance of e-tolls are not criminals.

There are four institutions in society in which truth and transparency are vital if democracy is to thrive.  The courts, academia, the media and parliament.  OUTA was hoping that honest engagement would help us distill some of the real issues and concerns which have transpired out of the e-toll debacle, and that the squanderous waste of money might yield some useful lessons for the future. Alas that hope has been dashed by the misleading statement emanating from the portfolio committee.

OUTA has posted its presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport on its web site here.  “We also invite anyone to explain how one could possibly misconstrue OUTA’s position against the e-toll scheme, into a statement that suggests in any way, that we support the scheme, as was purported by the Portfolio Committee’s media release”.formal complaint for misleading comment

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