GEORGE MATLALA AND DIANNE HAWKER
THE former boss of the SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral), Nazir Alli, has been accused of keeping crucial details of the e-toll contract secret – even from his transport bosses.
The Sunday Independent understands that Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele wants to force Alli, who resigned this week, to hand over the full details of the e-toll deal.
In particular, Ndebele wants Alli to lift the veil of secrecy over the contract entered into with the Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) joint venture, headed by Austrian company Kapsch TrafficCom, which would be responsible for managing the project and collecting toll fees.
Two government officials close to the case independently said Ndebele had had run-ins with Alli in an attempt to get details of the deal.
One source claimed that even the Sanral board was in the dark about the full details of the contract.
Transport Department spokesman Tiyani Rikhotso would only say: “All matters related to the project in question are currently receiving the attention of the interministerial committee set-up by the cabinet.”
There has been wide speculation about the true cost of the project, with critics estimating that it will cost R20 billion to collect the fees that are meant to pay for the R20bn road improvement project.
Alli blanked out large portions of information on the document he had agreed to hand over to Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on live television.
The DA, which has laid a complaint with Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, also failed in its attempts – via a Promotion of Access to Information Act application – to have a look at the contract.
Even in court, the government embarrassingly failed to submit the contract signed with ETC to substantiate its argument that further delays of the e-toll project would have an adverse effect on the country’s economy and its credit rating.
Alli has argued that he was duty-bound not to reveal some information because it was subject to confidentiality clauses.
However, yesterday he denied keeping the contract secret from the department and Sanral board.
“That is a blatant lie. Awarding of tenders is a decision of the board’s contracts committee,” he said. He added that he would not have invited an investigation by the public protector if he had had something to hide.
“These things are all audited by the auditor general and Sanral has had clean audits from the auditor general for very many years,” he said.
Madonsela has confirmed that she will begin a preliminary investigation of the contract.
The Sunday Independent was also told that the government might consider terminating some of the contracts, which will force the interested parties to disclose the full extent of the contract.
A law expert said the department has the option of taking Alli to court to force him to disclose full details of the contract.
Bowman Gilfillan company law expert Carl Stein said that while he didn’t know the details of the Sanral case, he found it surprising that Alli would withhold such a crucial contract from the board.
“He has to disclose. He serves at the behest of the board and the board is entitled to any information it requests,” he said.
Stein said he didn’t know whether Alli would have the authority to conclude such a contract without board approval.
“They could take him to court to force him to disclose the information,” he said.
However, Jacques Peters, a director at Thomson Wilks, specialising in company law, said there was nothing in the Companies Act to force Alli to reveal information to the board.
Peters said the Sanral board would have to refer to Alli’s contract to establish whether he has “acted outside his mandate”.
“It all comes down to what authority they’ve given him.”
Peters said the board would have to take a decision as a collective to force Alli to reveal the details of the contract.
It has also emerged that the cabinet was divided over whether to appeal the decision of the Pretoria High Court to interdict the roll-out of the project end of last month.
Some senior government officials wanted the decision to be challenged, but others preferred the court review of the project to go ahead in the hope that it would force Alli to hand over all documentation related to the road scheme.
The ANC and Cosatu were working on finding alternative ways of paying the debt on the R20bn project after both had agreed that the e-toll project should be scrapped.
Government spokesman Jimmy Manyi would not comment further.
“The cabinet appointed a ministerial committee under the leadership of the Deputy President (Kgalema Motlanthe) to deal with all e-toll matters, including the high court decision,” he said.