Press Release by leaders from the following church groups: South African Council of
Churches, South African Catholic Bishops Conference, The Evangelical Alliance of South
Africa and South African Christian Leaders Initiative.
Various church groupings have made statements about the e-tolling system – that government has chosen to fund the new roads that have been built within Gauteng. The Catholic Church Justice and Peace Department released a detailed statement regarding their stand on the matter about 3 months ago. The government asked for a meeting to discuss this and also invited other church leaders to attend and discuss the matter. A number of church leaders from the Catholic church and from a number of other churches attended this meeting (including a number from the SACC).
Subsequent to that meeting, a number of discussions were held between a range of different church leaders, to try and formalise a joint position on the use of e-tolling to fund the new roads in Gauteng. These meetings resulted in the formulation of a letter to government that captured the essence of this joint position, signed on behalf of the South African Council of Churches, The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference Justice and Peace Department and South African Christian Leadership Initiative. (see enclosed letter to the Deputy President – The Honourable Kgalema Motlanthe).
The Deputy President invited these church leaders to a discussion on Monday of this week (the 23/09/2013). The meeting was held at the Union Buildings and covered most of the points made by the church leaders in their letter.
During the meeting the Government made it clear that they could not consider ‘scrapping the e-tolling system’ – as requested by the church leaders – as this would have a disastrous effect on the South African economy. The church delegation explained why they felt that the negative consequences SA is currently experiencing, stem from the choice of a funding mechanism that is highly controversial and that has resulted in large-scale rejection of the system – which may well result in its failure.
Government explained that the introduction of a fuel levy to fund the new roads would be rejected as unfair as it would force non-users of these roads from around the country – to contribute to paying for these roads. The church delegation pointed out that the majority of the country’s taxes are collected from Gauteng – but only a small proportion of that money is used within Gauteng, in order to ensure that the whole country experiences the benefits of development. This makes perfect sense, as does the spending of a portion of that money on the infrastructure needed to generate the taxes collected in Gauteng. These roads ensure that the whole country continues to benefit from the taxes collected within Gauteng.
Government expressed its ongoing concern for the poorest of our people, and its desire to include the churches in the attempt to find ways of ensuring that the poor do not get penalised by the choices that are made regarding the development of our infrastructure. They invited the churches to continue engaging with them in the attempt to find common ground on this.
The church delegation have requested the setting up of a working group to try and resolve some of the outstanding issues (see the attached letter to the deputy president).
We were surprised to note that the President signed the Transport Laws and related matters bill (the so called ‘e-tolling bill’) yesterday. We had no indication that this was imminent, but this does not change our confidence that Government will continue to engage in the effort to resolve matters – rather than proceeding with the implementation of a system that has been so widely rejected by our people. We note the ongoing court action regarding the same matter, but we do not feel that fundamental moral issues can be resolved by a court of law. Regardless of what happens in court, we will continue to insist that government takes the interests of all the citizens into account in making such decisions, especially the interests of the poor and marginalised.
Contact Details: Moss Ntlha 0828098533 and Mike Roussos 0832603189
First Letter to the Deputy President
LETTER FROM AN ALLIANCE OF CHURCH LEADERS TO THE DEPUTY PRESIDENT
14th September 2013
The Honorable Deputy President
A PLEA REGARDING E-TOLLING
When you met with representatives of the South African Council of Churches and the South African Catholic Bishops Conference on Friday 7th June, you indicated that you would be open to further engagement with church leadership on this matter.
As representatives of these and wider church bodies, we wish to make the following urgent representations, and to request a direct engagement with you.
We regret the pressure of time on this, but the recent downgrading of SANRAL by Moody’s Ratings Agency and the forthcoming court case, with which we do not wish to clash, leaves only a small window of opportunity. Because of the inevitable publicity around the court action, and the likelihood that we will be pushed to comment, it is likely that (for our own integrity) we will have to release this letter into the public arena shortly. We would like to meet you to discuss matters, before this becomes necessary.
The recent downgrading of SANRAL by Moody’s exacerbates an existing crisis, both in terms of the national finances of this nation, and in regard to a deadlocked controversy which continues to damage the nation-building project.
Now, on whatever basis of fact, there is a suspicion that action will be further delayed until after next year’s elections for reasons that have to do with electoral sensitivities. Such an act of political expediency would be disastrous for the nation’s finances and our international reputation. It would precipitate the serious undermining of our credibility and our creditworthiness as a nation. From where we stand, there is now a need for decisive action at a high moral and political level, from government.
As mentioned before, we want to bring the following concerns to your attention – concerns that remain forceful in the public mind:
1: There is deep and widespread concern about the potential impact of e-tolling upon the poor, directly and indirectly, and many bodies in civil society remain unconvinced about reassurances received in this regard. They are ready to continue the dispute around e-tolling by various means as a consequence.
2: The public remains broadly unconvinced about the integrity of the processes of planning, consultation, contracting, and management which have been followed around the GFIP – despite all the arguments and assurances which have been given. The recent revelations that have emerged from the competitions commission, on top of the many increases in the cost of the GFIP project, enhance the perceptions of price-fixing and underhand dealings. It appears to us that e-tolling has become a lightning rod for public dissatisfaction around entirely other public projects; nonetheless, the distrust persists and will poison the public mind against co-operation with any attempt to impose the tolls.
3: There is a widespread perception that the handling of this issue by government and by SANRAL has been insensitive and heavy-handed, far from the style of governance for which many of us fought for so long. Harsh language, disrespect for public opinion, threats of kitskonstabels on the highways, and tendentious argument have lost this administration much respect. The
perception that some of the arrangements around the administration of the tolling system are unworkable has added to this antagonism. This has become, in public perception, yet another example of how government ignores the protests of ordinary people and forges ahead regardless.
4: As church leaders we are concerned that forcing the e-tolling system upon Gauteng could lead to open conflict between motorists, toll operators and agents of law and order, all of which would be beamed across the world by the media. We cannot fail to warn about possible conflict and even violence which, given the prevalence of antagonistic ways of resolving our differences,
could easily ensue. Although many of us have been urging people to find peaceful methods of expressing their dissatisfaction, it appears to us that you need to take urgent action to circumvent the need for any such activities.
Although this conflict concerns roads within Gauteng, the predominant role of the Gauteng economy – and its impact on the cost of goods throughout the country, combined with the fact that the underlying issues will impact on the roll-out of other contested toll-roads around the country, make this a critical matter of national concern.
We would like to meet with you urgently in order to put the following to you. We are asking government to make a bold and statesmanlike decision that will allow us to cut through the whole matter. The use of e-tolling to fund the GFIP road network needs to be scrapped.
This would involve recognising that a mistake has been made somewhere and by somebody, and that this needs to be changed; how that is communicated can be worked out.
Another way of funding the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project must be found. The Minister of Finance in his 2012 Budget Speech already found public funds in the fiscus, sufficient to cover a significant portion of the cost, and the reputable economist Azzar Jamine has publically stated that ‘if we had slightly raised the level of the fuel levy a few years ago, we could have paid off the whole project’. Some combination of public reserves, the fuel levy and judicious borrowing must be able to head off the catastrophic consequences of forging ahead with this ill-conceived, unpopular and provocative plan. The worst possible path would be to once again leave this matter in limbo while we conduct the elections – this would be interpreted as gross negligence and would certainly result in significant damage to our reputation as a country.
This is rather an issue of principle requiring clear and courageous leadership at national level. We (an alliance of church leaders) hereby appeal to you to exercise such leadership before the damage to our nation is exacerbated.
Bishop Jo Seoka (President SACC)
Archbishop Mshengu Tshabalala [Ikhaya Leziyoni (African Independent Church)]
Rev Ernest Hlophe (Chair of TEASA)
Bishop Abel Gabuza (Chair of Justice & Peace, Catholic Church)
Rev. Moss Ntlha (Chair SACLI)
Second Letter to the Deputy President
25 September 2013
The Honorable Deputy President
Mr Kgalema Motlanthe
Dear Mr Deputy President
Thank you for making the time to meet with earlier us this week to allow us to present our concerns to government regarding the implementation of the e-tolling system to finance the new road network around Gauteng.
We have heard your concerns about the positions we raised and wish to take this opportunity to suggest that a working group is created between ourselves and government, to try and resolve a number of outstanding issues on this matter;
We would like to take you up on your offer to work with us to find a solution to the concerns we all have about the impact of this funding method on us all – and especially on the poorest of our people.
Our suggestion is to set up a working group to discuss these matters further, and to try and find a way forward that will take into account your sense of the limitations facing us, and the concerns we have about the consequences of current decisions.
SACLI chairman on behalf of the Church leaders delegation.