The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) was encouraged by President Zuma’s statements during his recent address to the National Council of Provinces, wherein he mentions that ‘South Africans .… want to be engaged continuously and have strong views about how they should be governed.’ During this same speech, the President talks of authorities being ‘accountable to their communities’ and a need for ‘effective public engagements.’
“While we agree whole heartedly with these statements, we are left deflated when it comes to action displayed by the authorities in this regard,” says Wayne Duvenage, Chairperson of OUTA. “This is clearly the situation with regard to the eTolling debacle, where the public engagement process was extremely dismal and even at this late stage, when it is not too late to halt this highly rejected and ill-conceived plan, the authorities continue to ignore the views of the people on this matter.”
The Gauteng e-tolling fiasco offers President Zuma the opportunity to show government officials what he means in practice. “Had meaningful public participation on eTolling been undertaken in 2007, the authorities would have learned then of the difficulties they now face, all of which has given rise to the rejection of the eToll scheme,” says Duvenage.
This would not have meant a cancellation of the freeway upgrade, but instead, a meaningful engagement process by Sanral at the time could very well have provided an acceptable, more efficient and most amenable solution for society to pay for the infrastructural requirements. It would have also enabled society to understand and accept the work to be done, explore alternatives, scrutinize the contracts to be issued and to hold the state accountable for the estimates and quoted costs incurred.
This is precisely why meaningful public engagement is so important, as it prevents these ‘after the fact’ objections and waste of citizen’s time and money on grandiose schemes that detract from societies prosperity.
Furthermore, this week the Catholic Bishops have labeled e-tolling as an ‘extortion’ and an ‘extraordinary emergency’. OUTA believes the President has every opportunity to mitigate a worsening socio-political crisis that e-tolling has precipitated, by calling a halt to the e-tolling plan in its current design, costs and contracts.