What is really behind SANRAL’s e-toll delay?
This announcement to the international investment community by Kapsch’s Andre Laux had an almost immediate impact of an improved share price on the day. SANRAL conveniently responded in South Africa, that ‘the foreign shareholders in Electronic Toll Collection Joint Venture (ETC) would only get dividends’ and deliberately avoided the obvious question of clarifying how much in dividends.
Last Friday, Bloomberg reported, that Kapsch TraffiCom saw their share price drop by as much as 4.1% on reports that ‘a South African project that was expected to start this month has been delayed’. Despite being reported by several South African media over the weekend, SANRAL have yet to explain or qualify why the share price of their ‘foreign shareholders’ would have dropped on word of yet another e-toll project delay, when no such public statement was made by them or the Department of Transport on the matter.
“The delay is however evident and quite frankly, the e-tolling debacle has been no stranger to delays” says Wayne Duvenage, the Chairperson of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA). “On 10th April, SANRAL announced that e-tolling would commence within two months and we are nearing four months after that statement was made. This program is now two and a half years and several launches behind their initial start date of April 2011. We also recall the Constitutional Court arguments in August 2012, when SANRAL and Treasury’s counsel were a pains to stress the urgent need to start tolling, lest their credit ratings were further impaired and much needed income was delayed. Ten months have since passed and they now claim to await legislative amendments and approvals before they can start.”
OUTA is not blind to Government’s intention to press ahead with the launch of e-tolling, sticking to their ‘user pay’ argument, which was based on the benefits accrued to society by their plan. These same benefits, however, were seriously questioned by the then Minister of Transport, Mr Sibusiso Ndebele, who, when responding to a question in Parliament on the 28 October 2011 said in reference to the GFIP “the projected benefits to road users may, therefore, unfortunately not be forthcoming”. The upgraded freeways have been used for over two years now, yet neither SANRAL nor the Government have used this live opportunity for further data or analysis to satisfy the substantial challenge to their theoretical and largely academic benefits model, which has been rejected by acknowledged main stream economists in the country.
OUTA notes with interest SANRAL’s expression of ‘outrage’ against the bid-rigging and collusive behavior displayed by the construction companies, on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), to the Competition Tribunal. SANRAL have also indicated they may seek civil damage claims from the construction companies, as a result of this situation. In OUTA’s opinion, the word ‘outrage’ should spur SANRAL on to take every action possible, civil or otherwise, to fetch the overcharges from the colluding players and pass this money back to the road infrastructure project. “No stone should be left unturned in this regard and we are eager to see this action transpire,” says Duvenage.
OUTA’s supporters continue to be overwhelmed by the extent of support across all income groups and the wide spectra of public, business, unions, civil, political and religious groups. Indeed OUTA is further comforted in the report by the recent Presidential commission on State Owned Enterprise which does not find support for the application of user pay charges for social infrastructure such as roads. In OUTA’s opinion, any consideration to force the implementation of e-tolls will be met by resistance on the highways, low levels of compliance, higher costs and more importantly, at the ballot box next year when citizen’s will then hold the real power.
“There are far too many negative factors that weigh against the e-toll decision when compared to the negligible gains that will come therefrom,” says Duvenage. “We sincerely hope the new Minister of Transport will apply her mind and take note of the myriad of issues at stake. No level of SANRAL marketing spend will ever achieve society’s confidence in this system and Ms Peters would be wise to choose the less costly route of honest and open consultation to find and apply an alternative funding mechanism that is more equitable, economical and efficient.”