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A project that would have potentially eliminated all illegal number plates in Gauteng and shaved millions off the e-tolling bill was mysteriously halted right before implementation.
Known as the secure number plate-registration system, the project was much lauded in the media by the Gauteng Department of Transport, which was preparing the public to buy new plates.
These would have had a security chip built into them with the car owner’s details, which would have been impossible to clone.
This would have eliminated the 10-15 percent of illegal cars estimated to be on the province’s roads.
As e-tolling is about to be launched, a major worry is that law-abiding car owners will be billed for cars whose number plates have been cloned.
The Star has seen a confidential report compiled in January 2007 by the department of public transport, roads and works called the “Gauteng transport information system, incorporating electronic vehicle-identification and secure number plate registration system”.
It details the implementation of this system, which involved the number plates and a paper car licence disc with an electronic chip that could be picked up by police officers scanning machines.
This disc would have operated in the same way as the e-tags, but would have been much cheaper to manufacture and buy.
It would have cost drivers R12, while e-tags cost R50.
The department of transport never gave any explanation why the whole project was secretly canned.
The report makes mention of e-tolling, indicating that for it to operate, the project needed toll gantries whose cameras would scan and read the number plates and licence discs.
Gauteng DA MPL for transport Neil Campbell points out that this was before any public consultation for e-tolling had taken place, indicating that tolling of the highways was considered a foregone conclusion before the public was even told about it.
Compiled by Deloitte Consulting, the report goes so far as to name contractors who won tenders for the project, with budgets and time frames for implementation.
It states: “It is suggested that this project be handled outside of the tender process, since it is a national security project.”
It does not say why the project involves national security.
There was also major emphasis on public relations, placing importance on giving the public the right image of the project.
“It is important to guard against the following two statements: ‘big daddy is watching’ and ‘this is another money-making racket’,” the report said.
The two service providers are named as Deloitte and iPico Africa, with budgets of R98 million in the first year, R152 million in year two and R104 million in year three.
An inside source who worked on the secure number plate project said it was a super idea which would have made Gauteng the first place in the world to have this system.
Not wanting to be named because he works with the transport industry, he said thousands of number plates were manufactured illegally.
“Those in the transport industry talk about there being 3 million registered road users in Gauteng, but there are actually 5 million cars on the road,” he said.
According to the source, the project was suddenly cancelled amid bribery and corporate misgovernance allegations.
“An Australian company that was involved had already spent R26 million implementing the system. They never got their money back,” said the insider.
“The whole thing was a mess – a mess that was really the start of the e-tolling debacle.”
Campbell said there were big question marks around the entire project. In particular, the lack of a tender process was illegal, and he was concerned that the real intention was money generation.
“It also shows that the e-toll system was envisioned way back then, when no public participation had happened.”
Deloitte confirmed involvement in a contract through a third party, to perform advisory work for the Gauteng department of transport for the implementation of the electronic vehicle identification and safe number plates.
“We worked with and through a number of companies, including Ipico, whose competency is the supply of hardware,” said Kerry Naidoo, the senior manager of communication.
The Gauteng department of transport had not replied to queries at the time of publication even though questions were e-mailed on Thursday. It did not respond to phone calls and SMSes. - The Star