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It’s the elephant in the room that’s causing all the trouble in the e-toll court fight. The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance emphasised that the tolling on the Gauteng freeways was suspended because of a deal between Cosatu and the ANC, not because of a high court ruling, which torpedoed the government’s claims of dire financial consequences.
“It is the elephant in the room that the applicants - the national treasury and Sanral pretend is not there,” said the alliance and supporters in argument to the Constitutional Court this week.
The treasury and Sanral appealed to the Concourt to overturn an April Pretoria High Court decision suspending tolling and ordering a review of the tolling decision-making process. Both the application for leave to appeal and the appeal itself will be heard on August 15. Tolling was due to start on April 30.
The alliance said: “It was argued strenuously on behalf of Sanral, the transport minister and treasury during the course of April 26 that e-tolling could under no circumstances be postponed and that there would be catastrophic consequences for the country if it did not commence on April 30.
“At the very time when this was being argued, the ANC and Cosatu were concluding a deal that e-tolling would be postponed for a month in order for a task team to investigate alternative funding mechanisms.”
The e-tolling postponement was announced by the ANC and Cosatu on April 26; the court judgment suspending tolling followed two days later.
The treasury and Sanral have argued that the high court had unreasonably interfered in government policy, but the alliance said their challenge was “not against a policy-laden decision made by the government but against the unlawful implementation of a tolling system in terms of section 27 of the Sanral Act”.
TWO DECISIONS UNDER ATTACK
The alliance reiterated arguments that the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project could be funded by a fuel levy or directly by the fiscus instead of tolling, and said the government had sufficient contingency funds.
The alliance singled out two decisions on tolling for attack - the minister’s approval in February 2008 for tolling on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project and the March 2008 declaration by Sanral of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project as toll roads.
The alliance repeated its concerns about the cost of collecting the e-toll revenue, and said that if Sanral’s argument was correct, this would mean the minister “gave his approval for e-tolling on the basis of a 10-word thumbsuck”, as detailed costs were not provided.
The court papers show that over 20 years, the collection costs of R21.5688 billion were higher than the R20.5bn construction costs. The alliance concluded it had established the right to have the decisions to declare the GFIP as toll roads reviewed. - The Star