ANC set to scrap e-tolls

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IOL news apr 26 PN COSATU e-toll0705

PRETORIA NEWS

Members of Cosatu march to the Department of Transport offices in Pretoria to submit their memorandum calling for the banning of the e-tolling system. Picture: Phill Magakoe

UNDER pressure from its allies and the court, the ANC is likely to scrap the controversial Gauteng e-toll project.

However, it seems there is no consensus regarding the alternative funding model, with some in Luthuli House considering tapping into government pension funds to sustain the most contentious project since the arms deal.

However, bureaucrats said this was suicidal and would amount to double-borrowing and push the country deep into a debt quicksand.

The ANC, according to a party official, doesn’t want to be forced by the opposition, civil society and allies – through the courts – to shelve the project.

The Pretoria High Court has interdicted Sanral, the transport agency managing the tolls, from collecting and levying motorists, putting the project on hold indefinitely pending a court review.

It is not clear if the government will appeal since top officials were still studying the implications of the court ruling last night.

The Sunday Independent has learnt that the ANC is considering roping in the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which manages the pension funds of government employees, to help find alternative funding.

But a PIC top official said this was not viable because the corporation had already loaned the project R17 billion, through Sanral bonds, while R3bn was financed privately.

The ANC is also under pressure from its ally, Cosatu, which compelled the governing party to postpone implementation of the project by one month.

Two senior ANC leaders and a senior government official confirmed that the party is considering ditching the project, and it was not in favour of an increase in fuel levies or licence fees.

However, three government officials have raised fears that the government has no option but to consider relocating funds from key areas such as health, education and grants, or alternatively forcing the Transport Department to reprioritise its budget. The court ruling is a blow to government as the transport department and Sanral were adamant four weeks ago that tolls would go ahead tomorrow.

But sources who attended the meeting between Cosatu and ANC said the labour federation chief Zwelinzima Vavi had told Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele and the ANC delegation, led by its secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, that the government was not ready for the programme.

Cosatu is said to have threatened to take legal action if the Gauteng e-toll project was implemented.

“We told them that if Sanral continues, then you (the ANC) must expect a strike (by Cosatu). We also said the ANC faces the prospect of Cosatu taking it to court,” the leader said.

“We said this thing is not going to work. We said we can’t allow a situation where people start owing (e-tolls) while we are engaging (to find an alternative funding method)”.

The trade union federation and other critics have questioned the high operational costs of the initiative, saying that fees paid to the Electronic Tolling Consortium, which will be managing the system and collecting toll fees, would be as much as the cost of improving the roads.

Meanwhile, members of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, a civil society grouping, popped champagne bottles after being awarded an interim interdict.

The group’s chairman Wayne Duvenage cried tears of joy in court and later told journalist he had had “a few sleepless nights” over the outcome of the court case.

 

Duvenage said the high court’s decision was evidence of the “power of the people”.

“I would hope government would sit back and reflect on what happened. Maybe they will change their attitude and in future should truly consult,” he said.

In the judgment, Judge Bill Prinsloo made reference to the effect the project was likely to have on motorists and said the association and its members had a right to bring the case to court.

The review application will deal with the “crucial” detail of whether former Transport Minister Jeff Radebe had considered the price of collecting toll fees when he approved the R20bn road improvement project.

Treasury had argued that a interdict would damage government’s reputation on the international markets.

Judge Prinsloo said the government’s argument that motorists could be refunded at a later stage was “not persuasive enough”.

 

The government also failed to convince the court that the applicants in the case did not have sufficient standing.

It was clear that all the applicants were directly affected by the e-toll system and said there was an “overwhelming probability that there were thousands if not tens of thousands of motorists who find themselves in the same predicament”, Judge Prinsloo said.

He agreed that road users were “held captive” by the road network because of the inadequate public transport system.

Judge Prinsloo also pointed to contradictions in the cases of Sanral and the transport minister, and the fact that government had not included the contract between Sanral and the Electronic Toll Collection Consortium, which will manage the project.

The contract is likely to be among those requested in the full review application, said Pieter Conradie, a lawyer representing the alliance. He said the review application could take two or three months if government supplied documents timeously. Sanral CEO Nazir Alli and the ANC refused to comment. Transport spokesman Tiyani Rikhotso said the they would study the judgment before commenting.


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