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Fuel levies could bring in R40bn

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IOL si Wayne Duvenage of OUTA

Independent Newspapers.

Wayne Duvenage. Picture: Chris Collingridge.

Dear Mabaya

Thank you for your letter. The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance is not a one-man show. Unfortunately, it appears that way when one is the chairman and spokesman of the organisation and this being such an emotive and high-profile matter, it has received significant media time.

The views I espouse are those of the alliance’s members and not mine alone.

The call to not buy e-tags has also been echoed by the AA, the SA National Consumer Union, Cosatu and others. It is not a call to break the law, because it is not a legal requirement to get an e-tag. If you do not get an e-tag, there are other processes and costs that come into play, which the road user is free to decide on.

One thing we do know is that the smaller the tag number, the more unworkable the system becomes, and that is one way to bring the system down. Society is also free to use passive resistance to bring to a halt an unjust and unwarranted system, just as it did to halt the atrocities of apartheid.

Ours is a call to halt a programme that we regard as illegal and we will continue to use the legal process to prove that. To say we must simply accept the judgment and move on is wrong.

There is a formal court process that allows one to appeal, should the grounds for appeal be compelling enough to convince the courts accordingly. This step is now in action and we shall await the outcome. I assure you we have given much thought to our decision to appeal and there is nothing more that we want to do than put this matter behind us and move on. I personally do not have the time to do this work. This is certainly not a one-man crusade. We have a bunch of excellent people who are passionate about civil justice.

The reality of the challenge against e-tolling, from the outset, has been one of a civil nature to ensure that legal rights of citizens be engaged with in a proper and meaningful manner, especially when decisions and new policies have a profound impact on society.

This challenge has also questioned the exorbitant costs and inefficiencies of the e-toll plan by Sanral, questions that would have emanated a lot earlier and which could have impacted on the e-toll decision, had a proper and meaningful consultation process been applied in the first place. This is precisely why the constitution and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act are in place.

The alliance (and millions of South African citizens) are firm in their belief that the public engagement process by Sanral in November 2007 was not meaningful nor lawful. Sanral received only 28 responses to its one advert placed in six newspapers. These adverts seriously lacked the information required for meaningful feedback to be given.

Today, the public have become empowered with knowledge on what e-tolls are all about and they have expressed their disgust and have rejected the plan. This was displayed by the 1 000 or so people attending the three public engagement sessions in November 2012 and from the 11 000-plus written submissions to the Department of Transport during the same month. This late public engagement is too little too late, but the message from society has been a loud and clear rejection of e-tolls. Will the government take heed? We think not.

The reasons the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act and our constitution are strong on the need for meaningful and proper public consultation is to prevent precisely what is developing in this space – civil disobedience. So now, sadly, we will see society take the law into its own hands. Cosatu will continue to blockade the highways and citizens will buy jammers to block the e-tag reading systems (this is what happened overseas), and they will fit cloned licence plates to their cars (already more than 10 percent of Johannesburg vehicle plates are false).

They will do these things because they distrust the system and the authorities and this is their way of fighting back, of passive resistance. We do not condone these unlawful practices, but we are warning that these responses can be expected.

Taxis are not public transport, they are businesses, yet they were given a free ride on Gauteng’s freeways under the guise of supporting the poor. This implies the poor do not have cars. Why then are taxis not given free ride through all Sanral’s toll concession routes to Limpopo, KZN and other provinces?

As Zwelinzima Vavi puts it, this is economic apartheid and Gauteng’s freeways are only for those who can afford them. The poor must use potholed back roads.

Around the world, tolling systems have been stopped by societies when these have not been implemented in an inclusive, transparent and cost efficient manner. We are no different here in South Africa. It is from this premise that the alliance’s challenge is tantamount to a call for all citizens to display civil courage and calls for society to stand fast in defence of their rights against a government that is not putting its people first, not only on the e-toll matter, but in many other respects.

The alliance’s challenge has never been that naive to suggest that the Gauteng freeway upgrade was not required. The alliance firmly believes in the need for better roads and infrastructure to keep pace with a developing and growing society. Furthermore, all infrastructural development ultimately needs to be paid for by society, which brings me to the next point.

Why do we believe the fuel levy is a more efficient manner of funding infrastructure of this nature and not tolling? I suggest you take a look at The alliance’s website at www.outa.co.za to see our reasons and views on this subject, but in short, we believe the current tax collection methods (including the fuel levy) are very efficient (no additional exorbitant administration costs as e-tolls do).

The current R40 billion a year collected in fuel levies should suffice for all road construction, if it is allocated accordingly. But it is not. It goes into the general fiscus pot and not all of it gets back to roads, which is why we are in the predicament we are in.

This is not a time to succumb to the pressures that come from taking a rightful stance that challenges the government. The recently launched National Development Plan by our government has welcomed all to become active citizens and to challenge the authorities when society has strong grounds and reasons to do so.

I am happy to meet with you in person to discuss the myriad related matters. Until then, thank you for questioning us (and me in particular) on our efforts.

- Duvenage is the alliance chairman.


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