Johannesburg - With fresh promises from Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula on the resolution of the e-tolls matter, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) insists the government has no alternative but to abandon the user payment option.
Mbalula made the undertaking in Parliament last week, saying the e-toll matter would be addressed by the Cabinet over the next two weeks.
“We are at the tail end of our processes. The decision is on the table. We expect that, in the next two weeks, we should be back to the Cabinet before tabling our budget vote speeches. We should have gone to you (the NCOP) and the public to announce the Cabinet decision on the e-tolls,” he said.
This was the latest in a series of promises by Mbalula that the e-toll matter would be resolved.
The e-tolling system officially came into effect in December 2013 and was meant to be a measure of motorists paying towards the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project. The SA National Roads Agency had taken on debt to help fund the project and revenue from motorists was meant to help pay back the debt.
The agency has over the years struggled to enforce e-toll payments. Outa, which was created in opposition to the toll implementation, said about 40% of motorists were paying for e-tolls six years ago, but the number has now shrunk to about 15%.
This has left Sanral unable to meet its debt obligations and in a worrying financial position. Wayne Duvenage said he estimated that Sanral collected about R50 million a month from the tolls.
This is as the company was meant to at least collect R2 billion to pay off about R20bn in bonds owed at the start of the tolling system.
“At R50m a month they are only just covering the income they need to pay for all their staff, the system. When it goes lower than that they will have to go back to the government for more money,” Duvenage said.
Outa believes the government has no choice but to abandon its hopes for a user-pay system.
“Our expectations, if they (government) do finalise, will be a decision to pull the plug on the scheme.
“That is what we believe would (should) happen if they were rational about it.
“They now have enough evidence to show that they will never get it to work for all the people as a user-pay scheme,” Duvenage said.
Sanral receives an estimated R13 billion to R15 billion a year from National Treasury. Duvenage said the SOE uses this money to cover operation expenses and not to pay the debt owed.
A solution, according to Outa, would be the use of other existing schemes such as the fuel levy to help finance Sanral.
The e-tolls matter has been a hot political issue with the ANC in Gauteng stating they were against tolling. This was in contrast to the government’s stance on the issue.
DA MPL Fred Nel said: “An announcement on the future of e-tolls was supposed to have been made last month. We sincerely hope that Mbalula sticks to his promise this time as residents have been forced to pay for something that they did not agree to in the first place.”
Sanral said on Tuesday that it was unable to respond to Mbalula’s latest assurance until the minister made a public pronouncement on the matter.