Gauteng motorists who are still paying for e-tolls are throwing their money into a system that was supposed to have been deactivated almost a year ago, and should not hold out hope of being refunded.
Ironically, the money that the “unjust system” is raking in, is actually keeping it going.
In his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTPBS) in October last year, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced government’s alternative funding mechanism to address the financing of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) debt, which involved state-allocated funds. This announcement sparked hope among those who have endured the frustration of the e-tolling system for over a decade.
Shortly thereafter, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi confirmed that the e-toll scheme would be deactivated by December 31, 2022, and even mentioned the possibility of refunding a substantial sum of the R6,8 billion that had been collected previously, to those who had paid it.
Today, however, nothing has changed, says Wayne Duvenage, chief executive of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA).
“They say they have one or two things to iron out but these are all weak excuses. (Godongwana) says there are issues that need to be ironed out between the Gauteng government and national government, but Gauteng gets 70 percent of the cost to scrap the system from the national government so it should just be a case of moving chairs around.
“They are being inept.”
In June, OUTA called on the Minister of Transport and the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) to end the Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) contract with Austrian company Kapsch TrafficCom AG who has made billions out of South Africa’s e-toll system over the past decade, but Duvenage says these payments are continuing as the e-tolls system is still bringing in around R45m a month from the handful of motorists who are paying.
“This is enough to keep the employees going. They are not making much profit from it but this money is paying to keep the system going.”
While the current e-tolls system is going to be repurposed for other long-distance schemes, he says e-tolls need to be scrapped. OUTA is “dismayed” with the government’s failure to deliver on its own decision.
In addition, motorists should not expect any refunds on e-toll fees they have paid.
“They are not going to get refunded. The government has not collected this money unlawfully. So they don’t have to pay it back.”
In a statement, OUTA says the MTBPS 2022 provided an additional R27,476bn for Sanral: R3,74bn through the Adjustments Appropriation Act 2022 specifically for the GFIP, and R23,736bn through the Special Appropriation Act 2022 for Sanral’s debt redemption fund. In November 2022, OUTA made a formal submission to the Standing and Select Committees on Appropriations on the MTBPS money bills and the Sanral transfers, and also a verbal presentation to the committees.
“We asked for an explanation of Sanral’s debt, the GFIP debt, and what was being paid off. Parliament passed those bills but we have yet to receive an explanation.”
In February, Budget 2023 included another R2,2bn for the GFIP and the Transport vote referred to the R23,736 billion received through the MTBPS towards the Sanral debt as “a partial solution” to the GFIP debt, with no clear explanation of that debt.
“As we stand in October 2023, not a single step has been taken to implement the decision to scrap e-tolls. The burning questions are: What will it take for the government to honour its own commitment? What has Sanral done with the additional funds it received towards paying off the GFIP debt?”
OUTA says Sanral’s Integrated Report for 2022/23 notes that the Gauteng government will contribute 30 percent of the outstanding GFIP debt and national government the remaining 70 percent (it refers to GFIP debt rather than Sanral debt) and that the R23,736 billion in the Special Appropriation Act 2022 was national government’s “first contribution” to its 70 percent share.
“This issue transcends the debate between national and provincial government responsibilities; it is about the irrationality and injustice of a scheme that has burdened Gauteng motorists for far too long. The irrational e-toll system has placed an unfair financial strain on citizens, and yet the government has either failed or refused to terminate it, despite making a clear decision to do so a year ago.
“One cannot overlook the administrative costs incurred by the government in extending the e-toll collection contract over the last year and sending bills to thousands of motorists for a system that was ended a year ago. These costs represent wasteful expenditure and further underscore the impracticality of e-tolls.”
Duvenage says the continued delay in ending the unjust e-tolls system is “a betrayal of the trust that citizens have placed in their government”.
“We have patiently awaited relief from this irrational system, and the government’s inaction is causing needless stress to South African motorists. OUTA calls upon the government to act immediately on its commitment to end e-tolls and deliver the relief it promised.”