Photo: Chris Collingridge

Johannesburg - The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse has again come out swinging against the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) over e-tolls, this time lambasting it for continuing to think it can collect overdue payments.

The roads agency last week released its annual report, which shows the amount owed to it by debtors has leapt from R1.15 billion in 2014 - six months after the controversial e-tolling system came into effect in Gauteng - to R7.66 billion in the year to May.

Sanral, which was downgraded during the 2013 financial year and has a negative outlook, explains in the report that trade and other receivables comprises mainly of e-toll debtors as well as its share of joint projects costs from other spheres of government and the private sector.

Of its R100.5 million in impairment losses, just shy of 90 percent relate to unpaid e-toll bills, it says.

However, Outa - which used to be the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance before becoming a general civil organisation - calls the increase in debt being carried by the roads agency “alarming”. In a statement released late on Tuesday, it says “Sanral clearly continues to count unpaid e-tolls as an asset on its balance sheet, when all indications point to virtually no hope of recovering this money”.

Read also: Revenue dip takes its toll on Sanral

Outa argues, had Sanral accounted prudently and honestly around these unrecoverable amounts, it would have been forced to report a far greater loss than R954 million reported for the 2016. It adds it is noteworthy that impairment losses from toll are an “implausibly low figure”.

Sanral, however, says in its annual report that there are many benefits to the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, and those “benefits are ignored by those seeking attention through unrelenting and unfounded attacks on the project. None have proven to be true and we caution road users to take care”.

It also adds it is mindful of the debt, and is taking measures to collect it.

“With the eyes of credit rating agencies focused on our country, and indeed, on Sanral, we have had to take a long-term view of our finances and focus our efforts on retaining investor confidence. In this regard, we have taken the necessary legal steps to collect outstanding e-toll fees from road users, and will continue to do so.”

The roads agency adds that steps taken to reduce the amount owed to it by Gauteng motorists include civil action and a promotional offer of giving those with overdue accounts a 60-percent discount if they pay up between last November and this May. Payment plans extend into late 2016, it notes.

It also claims in it annual report that  it succeeded in its controversial bid to withhold licence discs from motorists with unpaid toll bills last May. OUTA denies this was the case.

However, its annual report notes the “Less 60 percent” campaign, implemented during the financial year, will only be finalised in the next reporting cycle.

During the year, it also launched its first criminal case was against an e-toll violator for non-payment and fraud, via the National Prosecuting Authority. “The individual was found guilty and sentenced, which included paying all his outstanding toll fees and a fine," it claims in its annual report.

This, says OUTA, is not correct, as the individual actually pleaded guilty to falsifying his number plates.

The agency has, as of May 19, submitted 6 286 summons, with a total value of R575.1 million, to the Sheriff of the Court to be served.

This figure, however, pales in comparison to the number of motorists Outa claims are not abiding by the requirement to pay for using Gauteng’s freeways.

It says only around one in five users are paying for the use of Gauteng’s freeways and 2.9 million unique road users are in default.

“Some of these outstanding e-toll bills are well over two years old, well past the age of write-off in terms of accepted accounting practice. Conventional accounting practice requires that unrecoverable receivables which are clearly unrecoverable must be expensed through the income statement.”

Outa also accuses Sanral of padding its balance sheet. The Gauteng Freeway Network comprises 1 percent of the roads under Sanral’s management, affecting 201km of its 21 490km network.