501 14th Avenue, N1 North e-toll board. 220412. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

The cabinet has approved a new bill that will enable the government to take legal action against toll dodgers once e-tolling systems are up and running, beginning with those of the controversial Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.

The Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill was approved at the cabinet’s fortnightly meeting on Wednesday, according to a statement issued on Thursday by cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi.

“The bill has been necessitated by the development of the GFIP,” Manyi explained, “as well as future plans for the development of road infrastructure. The bill is essential to enable the implementation of the electronic toll collection system.”

According to earlier drafts of the bill, it would provide for civil - rather than criminal - action against toll rebels, as authorities have found it difficult to pursue outstanding fines through the criminal justice system. If the bill becomes law, road users would face garnishee orders or the attachment of their property if they fail to pay outstanding fines and fees.

The transport ministry undertook to provide a copy of the new bill on Thursday but failed to do so.

The bill’s approval comes despite an order handed down by the Pretoria High Court on April 28 that prevents the SA National Roads Agency Ltd from levying or collecting any e-tolls, pending the outcome of a judicial review of the GFIP and its associated tolls.

This review is already under way, and arguments will be heard in the Pretoria High Court again on November 26.

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan has since appealed to the Constitutional Court to have the high court judgment set aside, saying the court ignored the principle of the separation of powers. The government argued that tolling was an administrative function in the hands of the executive and that the courts should not have interfered in its implementation.

That case is set down for August 15.

The finance ministry has also warned that the interdict against the collection of e-tolls would hurt the economy.

The government nevertheless called a halt to e-tolling just days ahead of the court interdict after sustained pressure from Cosatu.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, which brought the case against the government, expressed “concern” on Thursday about the fact that the government appeared to be “forging ahead” with e-tolling despite ongoing high-level discussions between all role-players - and the pending legal challenges. - The Star