Cape Town - The secret’s out – Cape Town’s N1 and N2 toll tariffs will be almost triple those of the e-toll tariffs being charged in Gauteng if the South African National Roads Agency’s Winelands project gets the go-ahead.
Cape Town motorists could be paying toll tariffs as high as 84.59c/km, compared with the 30c/km charged by the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project for light vehicles. And Protea Parkways Consortium (PPC), the company awarded the tender by Sanral to do the work, is expecting about R48 billion in toll revenue during the concession period.
But if the national government sets lower toll tariffs than stipulated in the contract, Sanral will have to divert public funds earmarked for road maintenance to make up PPC’s expected revenue shortfall.
For the City of Cape Town, the devil was really in these details, which until now had been tightly guarded by a Western Cape High Court ruling that all papers dealing with the matter had to remain confidential. This included all supplementary papers and answering affidavits.
But the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein set aside this orderon Monday.
The City of Cape Town can, for the first time since it lodged its review application in 2012 for the project to be scrapped, reveal the details of how the tender will affect Western Cape motorists.
“The SCA ruling is a victory for transparency and accountability and the constitutionally enshrined right of access to information that is held by the state and its entities,” said Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for Transport for Cape Town.
Much of Sanral’s proposal has been cloaked in secrecy, and in 2013 the parastatal refused to provide a complete record of documents relating to the toll project when the city filed an urgent application for an interdict to stop Sanral from moving ahead with the project.
On Monday, Judge of Appeal Visvanathan Ponnan said in his judgment: “This appeal raises matters of the greatest public importance to the people of Cape Town and the region, involving as it does the construction and tolling of principal motorways in a project to be undertaken by an organ of state.”
Sanral said it noted the ruling.
“Sanral respects the judicial process and adheres to the rule of law; the roads agency will subsequently discuss the matter with its legal representatives before making any public pronouncements,” said Sanral general manager of communications, Vusi Mona.
In Sanral’s application, chief executive Nazir Alli said information on the costing implications of the project should be withheld until Sanral was able to file its answering papers so the public would have “both sides of the story”. The release of “highly confidential and sensitive” information would be detrimental to the bidders for project tenders and the public.
But Ponnan said in his judgment that secrecy was “the antithesis of accountability”, and that keeping the documents under wraps would, if Sanral succeeded in getting the city’s review application dismissed, deepen the controversy.
In his judgment he said court records should be open to the public and any exception had to be justified.
The city’s supplementary founding affidavit for its review application reveals that the decision to declare the Winelands toll roads was never taken by the Sanral board, but by Alli.
Herron said Sanral also failed to disclose the consequences of the reimbursement clause in its Concession Contract with PPC to the Sanral board and the minister of transport. This means that if the minister determines lower tariffs than what Sanral and PPC agreed to, Sanral would have to reimburse PPC from public funds meant for the construction and maintenance of national roads.
He said this reimbursement clause contradicted Sanral’s presentation to the national department that the proposed toll project would not require any contribution from the state.
Sanral had already contractually committed to the tariffs in PPC’s bid.
While the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project’s tolls for light vehicles are capped at R450 a month, PPC’s discount scheme does not provide for a cap. PPC also only allows for a 50 percent reduction for public transport. Three toll plazas have been proposed on each of the national roads.
On the possible use of public funds to make up tariff shortfalls, Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance’s WayneDuvenage said it appeared “Sanral’s decisions are dubious and bordering on undue enrichment of private entities through unjustified and exorbitant plans to (extract) funds from the public”.
Herron said that based on the documents Sanral submitted, it was clear the board did not consider the impact of the proposed Winelands toll roads on users, the need for tolling, the scope ofthe project, possible alternative funding, and the implementation of the project.
The negative macro-economic impact on the region had not been considered, such as the effect on the transport costs of agricultural products.
Peter Hugo, chairman of the Cape Chamber of Commerce’s transport portfolio committee, said the tolls would would add significantly to the cost of every container of fruit and wine exported. “I am amazed Sanral really thought they could get away with this. Did they learn nothing from the Gauteng e-tolls disaster?”
The city will disclose calculations that reveal how much of every rand collected will be spent on toll project infrastructure versus road improvements, when it files replying papers by April 25.
Chamber president Janine Myburgh said: “These secrets reveal that the whole public consultation process was a sham as no meaningful comment was possible without the knowledge we now have.”
The friends of the court who backed the city’s application include Corruption Watch, the Right2Know Campaign and the SA National Editors’ Forum.
The review application has been set down for August 11.