SANRAL quietly rewrote the e-tolls contract

SANRAL’s admission this week that it has extended the e-toll contract until December 2021 exposes a hidden contract extension: the e-tolls contracts were rewritten more than a year ago, setting up longer contracts

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04/12/2020 14:17:52

SANRAL quietly rewrote the e-tolls contract

The e-toll collection contracts which SANRAL signed with Electronic Toll Collections (ETC) were rewritten without going through a public process, changing the lengths of the contracts.

This week OUTA questioned the legality of collecting e-tolls from 3 December, as even with the maximum two-year extension, the original contracts would expire on 2 December 2020. But SANRAL then announced (see here and here) that it had extended the collection contract to 2 December 2021 and that this was legal: two SANRAL officials are quoted as saying the extension to December 2021 took the contract to “the maximum eight-year period as was allowed for in the original contract”.

However, the three original contracts did not have these timelines.

There are three main contracts for running the e-tolls: the Open Road Tolling (ORT), the Transaction Clearing House (TCH) and the Violation Processing Centre (VPC). The original contracts were signed in 2009 but all started running from 3 December 2013, when the e-tolls were switched on. The ORT contract was for eight years, and the TCH and VPC contracts each five years. It is understood that the TCH and VPC contracts had options to renew for a further two years.

That would have ended the TCH and VPC contracts – needed to collect e-tolls and pursue defaulters – by 2 December 2020 at the latest.

But it appears that SANRAL quietly changed the ETC contracts in mid-2017, changing all three of them to six-year contracts, and giving all of them the option of a one-year or two-year extension. That takes the maximum contract length for all three to 2 December 2021. The change is believed to have been signed in April 2017, just a month after the Minister of Transport told Parliament in March 2017 that the ORT contract was eight years and the TCH and VPC contracts were each five years.

OUTA found confirmation of the change in a reply to Parliament on 10 April 2019, when the Minister of Transport confirmed the change in the contracts but did not specify when this took place, and said that the changed agreement was approved by the National Treasury.

However, SANRAL omitted to clarify this in public.

Even SANRAL’s own staff appeared to be in the dark: the officials quoted this week both said the timelines were in the original contracts.

Even December 2021 will not be the end of the line for ETC, as SANRAL’s tender documents for the new contract include reference to a “transitional sub-contractor” which is the “incumbent contractor” (ie ETC), which is contracted for a further “21 months with options to reduce or extend” to help with the transition.

The tender plans for a principal contract of six years, which includes a one-year transition period, plus an option to extend for another two years.


Picture: Flickr/Paul Saad

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