File picture: Ihsaan Haffejee.
The government will have to pay billions of rand if it goes ahead with plans to scrap the unpopular e-tolls and only collects about a quarter of the amount required to service the debt incurred.

The National Treasury has warned that the termination of e-tolls will force the state to pay R11.1billion in unguaranteed debt and will also be responsible for guaranteed debt which currently stands at R19bn, according to documents obtained by Independent Media.

“In the event of the termination of the e-tolling or default in the guarantee, government may have to support the balance of the unguaranteed debt of R11.1bn in addition to the guaranteed debt,” reads the document which was presented to the National Council of Provinces standing committee on appropriations this week and prepared by Treasury official Pindi Masiso.

In total, the SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral) has R15bn in unguaranteed debt. Treasury has guaranteed R19bn of the R21bn debt Sanral incurred in financing the e-toll system, officially referred to as the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

“Given that Sanral’s continuing liquidity challenges and default risk specifically related to GFIP, by un-earmarking the transfer to the non-toll by R5.75bn, this would allow for a shifting of funds from non-toll to toll network,” Treasury advised.

Sanral has incurred R39bn in e-toll-related debt, or 83% of its R47bn total outstanding debt, according to Treasury. The agency is struggling to collect its e-toll debt from motorists, with cash collection significantly lower than projected at R65million a month. It needs R240m a month to service its e-toll debt.

Sanral has also been unable to access the bond market since its downgrade in 2017. Gauteng premier David Makhura promised earlier this month that his administration was prepared to assist indebted motorists pay their debt. This led to his social media spat with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, which forced President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene.

Mboweni claimed on Twitter that e-tolls affected Gauteng’s middle and upper classes, not the working class

Ramaphosa has asked Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, Mboweni and Makhura to table proposals to Cabinet by the end of next month. The government has promised to start consultations over the coming weeks and expects these to produce workable outcomes.

Ramaphosa said while the user-pay principle is his government’s policy, e-tolls currently present challenges

Finance committee chairperson Dikeledi Mahlangu was unable to comment on Saturday.

Political Bureau