.Picture: Jonathon Rees / Graphic: OUTA
MTBPS 2022 brings the end of e-tolls
Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana ended e-tolls today, tabling bills that transfer R23.736 billion from national government to the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) to pay off government-guaranteed debt, conditional on a solution to phase 1 of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).
In addition, Sanral gets another R3.740bn moved from non-toll roads to the GFIP roads, which runs through the Transport vote. This is the funding which OUTA noted last week had been listed in Sanral’s last annual report as having been handed over in July 2022 (see here).
“This is a clear indication to OUTA that the e-tolling of the Gauteng Freeways will be halted, and the funding mechanism has been shifted to national Treasury and Gauteng provincial government allocations, a solution that OUTA proposed to government over a decade ago,” says OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenage.
The funding solution announced in the medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS) by Minister Godongwana is this: “To resolve the funding impasse the Gauteng provincial government has agreed to contribute 30 per cent to settling SANRAL’s debt and interest obligations, while national government covers 70 per cent. Gauteng will also cover the costs of maintaining the 201 kilometres and associated interchanges of the roads and any additional investment in road will be funded through either the existing electronic toll infrastructure or new toll plazas, or any other revenue sources within their area of responsibility. Government proposes to make an initial allocation of R23.7 billion from the national fiscus, which will be disbursed on strict conditions.”
The Special Appropriation Bill tabled with the MTBPS includes a direct transfer from national government to Sanral of R23.736bn during 2022/23. This bill must now be passed by Parliament.
The MTBPS is however confusing with regard to Sanral’s 201km freeway network in Gauteng, which will now be handed to the Gauteng province from a maintenance and any future expansion purposes.
“OUTA believes that the MTBPS has signalled that Sanral’s pressure to finance the government guaranteed GFIP bonds through the failed e-toll scheme, is now over. There is no need for the Department of Transport, or Sanral to continue with the declaration of the Gauteng freeways as tolled roads. Accordingly, we believe the Minister will be making an announcement to put paid to the e-toll scheme in the next week or so,” says Duvenage.
OUTA has fought for over a decade to bring an end to the failed e-toll scheme, which was a battle fought through courts, through official inquiries, across social media, in protests on bridges and outside government offices, through millions of unpaid e-toll bills and the defence by OUTA of thousands of summonses by Sanral chasing debt.
Ultimately, the people have won on the decision that government will finance the Gauteng freeway upgrade undertaken between 2008 and 2012, through the united action of hundreds of thousands of motorists in a well-coordinated and peaceful civil disobedience champaign of non-payment for the irrational expensive scheme.
The e-toll conflict was one that seven ministers of transport, a trail of finance ministers and three presidents were unable to resolve. It was one that tried to secure 30% of Sanral’s revenue from the 1% of Sanral’s road network, had they succeeded in getting the scheme to work in their favour.
The e-toll saga has been a stern lesson for government, on the topic of meaningful public participation, and the need to take public input seriously, if policies and laws are to be respected.
For OUTA, it was our biggest, longest campaign that ran for over 10 years, supported by thousands of contributing supporters.
“This is a massive victory for civil society, and OUTA thanks each and every person who stood up against this irrational scheme,” says Duvenage, who pioneered OUTA’s strategy and has been the voice of e-toll opposition for a decade.
“This victory is a significant message to government never to ignore the voice and the power of the people. Today we thank thousands of motorists for standing their ground alongside OUTA’s collateral challenge in the court cases, and remained steadfast on this matter. This battle was not an easy one, with the onslaught of government propaganda, expensive court challenges, excessive bullying and coercive campaigns.
“The scheme had all the signs of failure long before it was launched in December 2013, yet government proceeded without listening to its citizens or the many organisations that opposed the scheme. Despite evidence-based research from OUTA pointing to the scheme’s obvious failures, government persisted for years, resulting in the waste of billions of rand in taxpayers’ money on this expensive, irrational and overpriced collection scheme.”
The legal process ahead
Ending the e-tolls has two aspects: establishing the alternative funding solution for the GFIP, and the legal dismantling of the e-tolls.
The Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, should now announce the way forward to legalise the situation for users of the Gauteng tolled roads.
OUTA believes that Sanral and the Department of Transport must now retract the notices which declared the GFIP roads as toll routes, which enabled tolls to be charged. This is Sanral’s responsibility, in consultation with the minister.
As far as OUTA is concerned, those who didn’t pay e-tolls, will no longer have to pay any outstanding bills.
Unfortunately for those who paid e-tolls, we believe they will not be able to claim these payments back, as the legislation was not unlawful and was valid at the time. When the toll declaration is withdrawn, it will not be retrospective.
The e-toll legal actions
OUTA’s lawyers are currently representing motorists in 2 028 cases in which Sanral has issued summonses, 99 in the high court and 1 929 in the magistrates’ courts, defending claims by SANRAL over R265 059 636.15 in unpaid e-tolls bills. In each of these cases, OUTA’s lawyers filed notice of intention to defend, which prevented Sanral from obtaining default judgments against these motorists.
We are continuing this defence until these matters are formally removed from the court rolls.
“OUTA maintains that the e-toll decision was Sanral’s biggest mistake, sold to government as a viable plan, and exacerbated by arrogance and an unwillingness to change its mind, when the writing was on the wall for the scheme as far back as 2012 when belated public engagement sessions made it clear that the public would not support the scheme, and that Sanral and the Government were going to have to go to ‘war’ against its citizens on this issue. In the end, it was an extremely costly war, which government lost, but as it is with all government mistakes, the people will have to pick up the costs,” says Duvenage.
A soundclip with comment by OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenage is here.
A video, published today, with Wayne Duvenage explaining OUTA's opposition to e-tolls is here.
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