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Pretoria -The transport department is willing to engage with various sections of the South African community about the contentious e-tolling system, it said on Wednesday.
The department was responding to the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference's justice and peace department, which revealed that it supported Outa in its case against e-tolling, to be heard by the Supreme Court of Appeal in September.
In a statement, spokesman Tiyani Rikhotso said the transport department was taken aback by the proclamation.
“While we are taken aback by the SACBC position, the department remains committed to meeting with stakeholders, including the religious community, to clarify its intentions regarding the introduction of e-tolling in Gauteng,” he said.
“Government, through the inter-ministerial committee, consulted with various stakeholders including the National Inter-Faith Leaders Council, SA Council of Churches, Congress of SA Trade Unions, Road Freight Association and the SA Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, which also made representations in Parliament.”
During the consultations, government committed to consider the views of the religious fraternity and other stakeholders when finalising regulations on the classes of motor vehicles that would be exempt from paying e-tolls.
“The second part of the regulations will deal with the tariff structure, which will show a significant reduction from the initially proposed tariffs,” Rikhotso said.
Outstanding issues on the e-tolls would be dealt with after the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill was passed.
“It is therefore incorrect to suggest that the department has neglected the socio-economic implications of e-tolling on the poor and the working class,” said Rikhotso.
The SACBC said it felt compelled to highlight the key moral issues underpinning e-tolling.
“Government has a mandate to govern, by virtue of having won an election. Does this mean that they are unaccountable until the next election?” it asked.
“Clearly not. Transparent public consultations on controversial issues are bound to be held and taken into account. We fear that this has not been adequately done in this case.”
Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) applauded the Catholic Church's stance against the e-tolling of Gauteng highways on Tuesday.
“We are extremely pleased that an entity of such stature and magnitude as the Catholic Church has come out to defend the country's citizens against a questionable decision and action by the state,” Outa chairman Wayne Duvenage said in a statement.
“This denouncement of e-tolling by the church was clearly conducted after significant research and an introspective assessment of the pros and cons of e-tolling.”
In April, the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) said it would begin e-tolling on Gauteng roads within two months.
In April last year, the High Court in Pretoria granted Outa an interdict approving a full judicial review before electronic tolling could be put into effect.
The interdict prevented Sanral from levying or collecting e-tolls pending the outcome of a review. Sanral and the National Treasury appealed the court order.
In September, the Constitutional Court set aside the interim order. In December, the High Court in Pretoria dismissed Outa's application to scrap e-tolling.
The court granted Outa leave on January 25 to take the matter to the SCA in Bloemfontein. - Sapa