More confusion over the scrapping of e-tolls and the settlement of Sanral’s debt

OUTA calls for clarity on the size of the debt, why Gauteng is paying towards a national debt and how the proposed refund will work

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05/01/2023 12:34:46

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More confusion over the scrapping of e-tolls and the settlement of Sanral’s debt

OUTA is astounded that we continue to hear that government and the Sanral technical team are still locked in deliberations over a final agreement to scrap e-tolls.

“It would appear that government still finds itself confused and unprepared, when it comes to resolving Sanral’s e-toll debt and what still needs to happen to finalise the Gauteng e-toll scheme’s closure,” says Wayne Duvenage, OUTA’s CEO.

The more comments we hear by the various authorities, the more confusing matters become. There are four main issues that we need clarity on. These are:

1. Why is the Gauteng provincial government being asked to settle any debt that the national authorities (National Treasury, the Department of Transport and Sanral) entered into in 2008 when the e-toll scheme was approved? The Gauteng freeway infrastructure upgrade took place on national roads managed by Sanral, reporting to the national Department of Transport, and it was the national Ministry of Finance which approved the government guarantees to back the bonds taken up by Sanral, of which only R21 billion pertained to the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

2. Even if Gauteng has been convinced to contribute toward 30% of the bonds, it should only be to cover 30% of the R21 billion borrowed for the GFIP ie R6.3 billion, not of the R43 billion Treasury says the GFIP debt is now. In addition, between 2011/12 and March 2022, National Treasury has bailed Sanral out to the tune of R22.4 billion (the total after VAT was deducted, and excluding the grants in MTBPS 2022), specifically for the GFIP debt, which is well above the capital portion of the project’s capital cost. The interest on the GFIP bonds debt amounts to no more than R17 billion since 2008. We want clarity on what exactly the province is expected to contribute 30% toward, and how the figure is calculated. On top of this, the Gauteng government should be asking why Sanral paid the excessive cost of R17.9 billion for the GFIP upgrade (before the e-toll gantries added another R3 billion infrastructure costs). OUTA estimated that the GFIP project should have cost no more than R9 billion. SANRAL’s inability to defy the construction industry corruption at the time allowed the costs to escalate to R17.9 billion by the time the project was completed in 2011. Gauteng should not be footing the bill for Sanral’s gross inefficiencies and incompetence.

3. On 4 January, media quoted Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi saying that the government would communicate with Gauteng motorists to find the best way to collect revenue following the failure of the electronic toll collection system (see here and here). While we are pleased that the Premier has indicated that he intends to consult widely with the people of Gauteng on how best to extract funds from Gauteng residents – presumably to cover Gauteng’s 30% commitment – we fail to see how this will be raised in the form of any additional provincial taxes without making Gauteng a more expensive province to live and do business in. We look forward to his consultations.

4. The same media quoted Premier Lesufi as saying that those who had paid e-tolls would be refunded and this was almost R6.9 billion. OUTA applauds the fact that the authorities are now considering or committing to refunding the e-toll fees paid by motorists and businesses since December 2013. What remains confusing, however, is that these comments are being made by the Premier of Gauteng, when in fact it was Sanral who billed the motorists and collected the fees. This matter requires a comprehensive explanation from Sanral on what refunds will be made and how. 

Once again, the government has missed another deadline to bring finality to the defunct e-toll scheme. This has become a habit which further wears down any trust the public may have had in government’s ability to resolve the e-toll debacle. OUTA looks forward to obtaining clarity on the issues it has raised from the relevant authorities that are empowered to make these decisions.

More information

A soundclip with comment by OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenage is here.

More on OUTA’s campaign against e-tolls is here.

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