Cosatu's toll plan

Other provinces must contribute towards Gauteng e-tolls because the province pays more than its “fair share” to the economy and “four times more” than it receives from the national treasury.

“Gauteng residents do not bemoan this and realise that the government needs to distribute the wealth from the economic hub (to) the entire country infrastructure…”

A toll gate on the N1 North just before the Beyers Naude offramp in Gauteng. Photo: Dumisani Sibeko. Credit: Independent Newspapers

This is labour federation Cosatu’s reasoning for an alternative way of financing the controversial Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.

In documents meant for discussion at the federation’s central executive committee – a senior organ comprising leaders of Cosatu affiliates – the federation argued that good infrastructure would benefit the entire country, and not just Gauteng road users.

Cosatu is opposed to the current principle of user-pays pushed by the treasury and accepted by the inter-ministerial committee headed by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. The federation is threatening to return to the streets in protest against the e-tolls.

“If you are going to push a user- pays principle, then on this basis, Gauteng citizens have more than paid for their freeway improvement,” Cosatu argues.

“Farmers get their produce to the markets and airports using Gauteng freeways. Business and individual prosperity increases from improved efficiencies in transportation of people and goods through the economic heart of South Africa. This generates more taxes for the country. Equally, road improvements in other parts of the country will help Gauteng…” Cosatu said.

Cosatu argued that e-tolls would place a burden on law-abiding citizens because of a “serious” non-compliance culture in the country, citing unpaid fines and cloned registration plates as an example.

Therefore, Motlanthe will have to convince Cosatu that the user-pays principle is the only way to finance the urban toll roads.

Motlanthe – according to a government official who asked not to be named as he is not the spokesman – has convinced the ANC, which was initially swayed by Cosatu, to change its consideration of scrapping the e-tolls.

This is why the ANC has endorsed the cabinet’s decision to appeal against the Pretoria High Court ruling to interdict the collection of the levies on the e-tolls pending a full court review.

Motlanthe said Cosatu “ran ahead of themselves” by announcing that the ANC had listened to its e-toll position.

“This is a matter for the government. What happened is not what Cosatu announced, but what the government decided,” Motlanthe said this week.

The Sunday Independent understands that Motlanthe will meet Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi soon.

Motlanthe appears to have angered Cosatu, with Vavi saying its proposal “is not just a mere recommendation”.

“We were not meeting as non-governmental organisations, just mere NGOs who can recommend. We were meeting the ruling party… an ally that has been voted into power by 66 percent of the population, not an NGO…” Vavi said.

“It is annoying that now we have signed a political agreement only to be told that our agreement with the ruling party is a mere recommendation to a superpower, the government,” Vavi said.

Motlanthe’s committee has also managed to navigate and push the cabinet towards a coherent stance.

The Sunday Independent reported last month that the cabinet was divided between appealing against the court decision on the one hand, and allowing the court to review the e-tolls process.

Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele is one of the cabinet ministers who wanted a review to expose how the country ended up being entangled in the contract.

An ANC official told The Sunday Independent that Ndebele tried, without success, to convince the party’s national executive committee – a senior structure – that the fuel levy was the other option. However, a source close to the e-tolls saga yesterday said Ndebele was merely presenting an alternative view proposed by the ANC.

On the other hand, another cabinet faction – led by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan – had managed to convince the cabinet that user-pays was the only less costly and viable financing option.

It is understood that Gordhan and Ndebele’s presentations to Motlanthe’s committee were so far apart that the deputy president had to go on a charm offensive to reconcile the two schools of thought.

Ndebele – who initially felt he did not have cabinet and presidential support – did not see eye to eye with Gordhan, who was seen as having direct access to President Jacob Zuma and being closer to the controversial Sanral CEO Nazir Alli.

The relationship between Alli and Ndebele was at its lowest ebb, with the latter being repelled by the former’s “arrogance” and accusations that the CEO was treating his board with disdain. There was no trust between the two men.

This newspaper reported last month – citing an insider – that Alli had withheld the e-tolls contracts information. He dismissed the allegations as nonsense.

Motlanthe also managed to convince Alli to reconsider his resignation – intimating that the country needed him to get it out of the e-tolls morass – and work together with Ndebele to deal with the “crisis”.

The Sunday Independent has established that all agreed that Alli was central to the impasse. Alli could not be reached for comment.

Finally, Gordhan won the day as Motlanthe was also convinced the user-pays principle was preferable.

But now their challenge is to sell their presentation to those opposed to the e-tolls.Gordhan and Motlanthe want to challenge the constitutionality of the high court interdict on the grounds that it was encroaching on the executive’s policy-formulation function.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance – a civil society pressure group formed in the wake of public pressure against the programme – is expected to respond tomorrow.

Alliance chairman Wayne Duvenage says the alliance also believes Gauteng has “more than earned” improved freeways through its input to the national fiscus.

n Additional reporting by Moshoeshoe Monare - The Sunday Independent