If the e-tolls are costing the ANC electoral support, it is logical for the party to relook at them, says Dumisani Hlophe.
Johannesburg - Review of the e-tolling system in Gauteng will inevitably conclude that an alternative system is required to fund the road infrastructure.
It will conclude that e-tolls have increased the cost of doing business and put a strain on social cohesion.
In light of this inevitable conclusion, there are underlying implications that, both as a government and an organisation, the ANC will have to deal with.
The first negative implication relates to the Gauteng provincial government’s quest to build the province as a globally competitive city region.
This strategy is based on the assumption that urban economies are essential locations for national economic growth.
Through this strategy, Gauteng seeks to position itself as a favourable destination for investment and an economic hub.
For this to happen, investors must find it easy to do business in Gauteng, from setting up to operational costs.
In this regard, an appropriate transportation infrastructure and efficient public transport system is an essential element. E-tolling risks increasing the costs of doing business. While bigger global conglomerates might find this manageable, the situation is untenable to small business enterprises.
Premier David Makhura’s undertaking to develop the township economy will partly be disadvantaged by the transportation costs across the province.
If his assertion that small business enterprises, including his emphasis on township economies, are essential to economic growth and job creation, e-tolls might be counterproductive.
This is a case of a good policy decision assuming unintended consequences as a result of poor government-integrated implementation.
The government’s policy decision that partly gave rise to e-tolls was meant to be a three-pronged project: improvement of alternative routes to the highways; establishment of an effective and efficient integrated public transport system and the tolled highways.
Tolled roads were supposed to exist alongside alternatives in the form of decent roads and a safe, cost-effective, reliable public transport system.
This required that the whole transportation plan be integrated and co-ordinated across national, provincial and local government.
The criticism levelled against the SA National Roads Agency is that it abandoned the intergovernmental structures meant to effect the integration and co-ordination of transport infrastructure and the public transport system.
Consequently, the tolled roads simply galloped ahead of alternative routes, as well as the development of a decent integrated public transportation system.
Though the initial idea was that driving on the tolled roads would be an option, it has inadvertently become compulsory – a must, not a choice.
This leads to the second negative implication: the government’s inability to enforce its laws and to generate financial resources to settle its international loan obligations.
One element that determines the strength of a government is its ability to enforce its legislation, ensure compliance and punish those who do not comply.
Given the low levels of compliance with Gauteng’s tolling legislation, the government’s strength in the view of citizens and internationally has been compromised.
The implications here are even dire since the ANC government has a historical mandate to drive socio-economic transformation.
Thus, besides e-toll fees collection, municipal rates and other payments are supposed to be collected.
It also means the government is unable to enforce transformation legislation such as employment equity, land restitution and black empowerment.
On the international front, this might have contributed to the recent credit downgrades.
This may be good, but it may be bad as well: good because democratic governments with a stronger bond to their citizens should not rely on foreign sources for funding; bad because foreign loans and grants have a tendency to create dependency between governments and foreign agencies.
This in turn can be good if the government is able to generate sufficient revenue domestically through taxes and other payments due to it.
But when a state develops a negative credit rating and is unable to enforce its financial compliance laws domestically, then it is bad.
Then there are internal political ramifications within the ANC.
At face value, Makhura’s appointment of a review panel to determine the impact of e-tolls appears as a rebellion against the ANC national government.
Thus, the hardliners at the ANC national level, who are irritated, are likely to agitate against the ANC Gauteng provincial government.
However, the ANC will appreciate it cannot afford to lose Gauteng.
Despite its limited geographic size, Gauteng is the most powerful strategic base for the ANC.
KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape might have the numbers, but the ANC’s power base is Gauteng.
Therefore, if the e-tolls are costing the ANC electoral support, it is logical for the party, both at provincial and national levels to relook at them.
Strategists within the ANC at both levels appreciate that the ANC in Gauteng is the strategic heartland for the sustainability of the organisation over time.
The directive by Transport Minister Dipuo Peters to put on hold the prosecution of e-tolling offenders is one clear indication that eventually there will be an alternative decision on e-tolls.
The first, of course, is the review sanctioned by Makhura.
The ANC cannot afford to risk the forthcoming local government elections like it did the national elections.
Expect the conclusions of the review panel to be accompanied by some serious political hot-speak with all sides to the dispute claiming victories.
You can surely expect the ANC to claim to have listened to the people.