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Six hours. Maybe a lunch break – and that’s it. That’s all the time a judge in the Pretoria High Court will have to hear arguments for and against e-tolling, and make a ruling.
Six hours for one of the biggest court decisions in SA’s history.
The fate of millions of Gauteng motorists and potentially the economic rating of the economy will on Thursday rest in the fate of one man.
Quick, precise and taking no nonsense, Judge Bill Prinsloo has over the past two days shown he is a man who won’t shy away from making a difficult or unpopular decision.
And he is determined to make his decision quickly, without having to force his court orderlies to come in over a long weekend and before Monday when e-tolling is set to commence.
Filled with grim faces, black robes, boxes of files and nerves, court 2D started promptly on Wednesday. Within an hour, Judge Prinsloo had made a decision in favour of the Opposition Against Urban Tolling Alliance, which won the first round with the judge granting their request that the e-tolling matter be heard as a matter of urgency.
The alliance is attempting to temporarily interdict e-tolling effectively stopping it from going ahead.
Judge Prinsloo found in favour of the public who had raised their voices to protest against the unpopular tolling scheme. “It seems to me that the immense and widespread public interest in this matter and the ongoing protest from many quarters should also persuade me to exercise my discretion in hearing this matter as one of urgency,” Judge Prinsloo said.
A short break and just before lunch, Afriforum’s attorney Greta Engelbrecht, SC, attempted to become a friend of the court wanting to bring the matter of the tariffs before the court, an argument that the judge had dismissed the day before.
Sanral’s attorney, Bruce Leech, responded and two hours later an agitated Judge Prinsloo dismissed the application, asking the legal minds to keep in mind how little time he had to hear their arguments for and against an interdict.
“We have to finish this matter tomorrow (Thursday),” said Prinsloo. “We may have to work through lunch.”
With just one hour until the end of day, the alliance’s legal head, Alistair Franklin, launched into his argument on why the e-tolls were illegal and should be temporarily stopped from going ahead.
Succinctly he said his argument rested on five main points: the cost collection of the tolls was disproportionate to the amount spent on fixing the roads; the system was unreasonable because law enforcement was practically impossible; there was a procedural error in the decision to toll because the public was not properly consulted; there was no integrated public transport as promised; and, the environmental authorisation was irregular.
Franklin said the alliance’s calculations were that more was being paid to collect tolls than the R20 billion debt to fix the roads. He said R21.56bn was being spent to collect tolls.
Earlier, Sanral attorney David Unterhalter said a figure of R20bn collection fee was only based on a 60 percent non-compliance by the public.
Franklin said it was impossible to know if this was true, because Sanral and the minister of transport had made no paperwork available, nor had they responded to this allegation in their court papers.
He said he found it difficult to believe that a decision maker like the minister made an “unreasonable decision” to toll the roads without knowing this information.
Franklin also said with Sanral’s figures that 1 million vehicles would utilise the roads every day, and their premise that there would be a 7 percent non-compliance, it meant 70 000 summonses would have to be issued every day.
He said this made e-tolling a practical impossibility.
On Thursday, Franklin is due to finish his arguments and Sanral, the Department of Transport and the Treasury will be able to respond.
If all goes according to the judge’s attempt to keep everyone to the point, the public should know by 4pm what his decision will be and whether Gauteng’s freeways will be e-tolled on Monday or not. - Pretoria News