Ordinary South Africans have 10 days to submit the names of the people they want to represent them on the steering committee to decide on the future of Gauteng’s toll road system.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, Minister of Transport S’bu Ndebele named four people who would make up the core of the committee, and he gave civil society 10 days to include their submissions.
The committee will be chaired by the director-general of the department, George Mahlalela. Others will be Kgaogelo Lekgoro, from the Office of the Premier; Benny Monama, head of the Gauteng Transport Department; and Nazir Alli, the CEO of roads agency Sanral.
The four will speak to organisations individually as part of a consultation process. A report will then be compiled and submitted to the minister by the end of next month.
Ndebele said that even though the committee had a tight deadline, they had chosen people who were involved in the toll project and knew it well. He could not say how the committee would find an alternative funding option, given the one-month deadline, considering the toll projects were first proposed 16 years ago.
The tolls were supposed to have become operational in June this year, and Ndebele said payback on the R20 billion loan would have begun by next March.
Some of the organisations which have raised objections to the tolls roads say they have not yet heard from the government or been invited to be part of the committee.
AA spokesman Gary Ronald said he had noticed that all those named so far were from the government and that no civil society members or any of the unions that had spoken against the tolls had been included.
“A diverse opinion needs to be heard so we can have a balanced view and an informed decision made on the toll matter,” Ronald said.
He found it strange that opinions were being sought only now, right at the end of the process.
“It’s almost irregular. One must remember there is a court ruling on the validity of some gantries because proper procedure was not followed. It questions the validity of the whole toll project.”
Thami Bolani, from the National Consumer Forum, has also not heard anything from the department yet, although he will be watching to see if trade unions, big business and civil society were involved.
“They will need to get many submissions, so a one-month deadline is very tight,” he said. “I believe consumer associations must be included.”
The toll tariffs announced last month would cost motorists up to 66c a kilometre to travel on Gauteng’s freeways.
Even though Ndebele was lauded at the end of last month for suspending the toll tariffs, he reiterated yesterday that the tolls would not be dropped – but rather, the pricing would be looked into.
“The suspension was brought about because there was an objection to the toll tariffs, and the biggest objection came loudly from the government,” Ndebele said.
“As a minister, when you hear that, you have to check and see what is going on. I thought, if even the government hasn’t been consulted, there has to be a problem here.”
Ndebele would not take any of the blame for the new toll roads in Gauteng, repeating numerous times that he inherited the project from previous ministers. He
called on anyone wanting to make submissions on the project to write to the director-general’s office.