Is this a just system or daylight robbery?
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Outa’s Wayne Duvenhage and Sanral Chief Executive Nazir Allie have opposing views on Gauteng’s controversial e-tolls.
Place yourself in the shoes of people who have to use Gauteng’s freeways, writes Outa’s Wayne Duvenhage.
Johannesburg Dear Minister Peters. A few weeks after your appointment, I wrote to your office to open channels of communication about the e-toll debacle, hoping to mitigate the negative side-effects and unintended consequences that are looming from its implementation. I’m still waiting for a response and implore you to do so now, hoping that you will respond as befits a minister of government, who has taken an oath of office to uphold the constitution.
First, know that I have considerable empathy for you given the challenge you face in your new role as minister of a department in distress. You have inherited a failed road safety programme with mounting road deaths; massive inefficiencies in rail and public transport; an Aarto system some six years behind schedule; a crumbling road infrastructure and the notorious e-toll fiasco.
There is no doubt the government needs the enthusiastic support of citizens to meet these challenges and your department has huge potential to enhance the nation’s prosperity in a short space of time. We want you to succeed. But the government’s handling of the Gauteng e-tolling issue does not inspire confidence. You have inherited a hot potato, but it is not going to cool down until the heat is turned down. The heat I refer to is being generated by the following questions, which I implore you to ask and seek honest answers to, directly from the Sanral chief executive officer, Nazir Alli.
* Mr Alli, when you conducted the formal public engagement process on e-tolls in October 2007, why did Sanral place the adverts seeking the public’s input in the business sections of those newspapers? Why did you not do so more widely and in parts of the papers that you know most people read?
* Why was that advert so vague and lacking in clarity that it was almost impossible for anyone to provide any meaningful objection to what was being planned?
* Mr Alli, did you seriously think that 30 responses from 3.5 million Gauteng motorists can be regarded as meaningful engagement?
* Listening to the public’s feedback today, do you honestly believe you achieved the committed support and participation of society?
* Why has Sanral provided the public with misleading information about the e-tag sales? The press has shown us that in July this year, Sanral lied about the e-tag sales numbers. Why did Sanral not apologise to the people for this misrepresentation of the facts?
* Why does your PR department clutch at words from business statements that reflect a need to grudgingly purchase e-tags and turn these words into endorsements of the system, leaving business institutions to correct these fabrications and making it clear that business actually does not support e-tolls? Are you and your board not embarrassed by this behaviour?
* Why do you continue to state that the e-toll collection costs are “only 17 percent” (in itself way above the international benchmark of 5-10 percent) when you know that figure excludes the expenditures related to the Violations Processing Centre and unrecoverable debts? These costs form an integral part of the full costs of collection and when summed up bring real collection cost to almost 30 percent, according to figures published by Sanral in the affidavits submitted to court?
* Following the three public engagement sessions last November, how did you interpret the massive and heated rejection of e-tolling from the people? Did you seriously think you would still have enough positive and enthusiastic compliance?
* Why do you regard the 12 000 public submissions of rejection to the gazetted notice of tariffs last November as “insignificant”? How is it that you interpret the 3 million or so motorists who never responded as endorsees of your plan?
* I have listened to the radio adverts and seen the print adverts that Sanral ran throughout 2009 and 2010, relating to the GFIP, and none of these indicates anything about e-tolling to the people.
They speak highly of the freeway upgrade, but never once did they indicate the upgrade would be paid for through an elaborate electronic tolling system. Why not?
* And, please explain to me why I should not simply ask cabinet to take a decision to rather raise the fuel levy by 9c per litre, and increase Sanral’s treasury allocation by an extra R2 billion each year for the next 20 years to settle the GFIP bonds? By so doing, we could negate the need for all this collection mess.
Surely that would be a much easier option to pay for the upgrade? After all, the Presidential Review Committee on State-Owned Entities has recommended that social infrastructure, including roads, should rely more on normal taxation, as opposed to a user-pays mechanism.
* Why is Sanral hiding behind the notion that you are merely the implementer of government policy? Let’s be honest here, Sanral was the architect of this scheme and it was your organisation that researched things from a one-sided perspective and managed to sell this plan to government, having us believe that everything would be fine, that meaningful engagement had happened and that it was the most efficient manner of funding GFIP with e-toll collection costs at around R394m a year. We are now faced with the reality that e-toll collection costs are three to four times that amount. How can you now sit back and simply say this is government policy?
13. We hoped that the nation as a whole would be proud of what Sanral has achieved with the GFIP. Instead, because of the e-tolling funding scheme, it is leaving a bad smell which even the churches are saying reeks of extortion.
* Mr Alli, I trust you realise that the government’s role is to ensure the prosperity of the nation, by serving the citizens with transportation systems to facilitate their freedom of movement, efficiently, so that the tax base grows apace with the overall well-being of society.
If you don’t have the support and backing of your society on an issue, even though we have the powers to force it into being, it cannot be right. Sanral is critically important in this space, yet you have thrust me and my cabinet into an invidious position. Do you agree with this statement?
Pardon my presumption for imagining myself in your shoes Minister Peters, but I have done so to try to show my empathy for you, and offer a way for you to hold Sanral accountable, drawing from my experience as someone who has had to make tough choices and decisions in the past.
You have been a cabinet minister and public representative for a long time and have also earned a reputation for being very committed and in touch with your constituency.
You should not find it too difficult to place yourself in the shoes of people who have to use Gauteng’s freeways every day; people who are battling to make ends meet.
Believe me, we know our freeways need to be upgraded and we have to pay for them. We also know that e-tolling systems of this nature work when they are introduced properly, transparently and with the engagement that seeks the committed buy-in of the people.
This scheme will eventually fail, it’s only a matter of time.
While I am writing this letter in a spirit of conciliation, I also ask that you please understand that Outa and thousands, if not millions of citizens will remain resolute in our defiance against this e-toll system, not because we have nothing better to do, but because it is our duty, our responsibility and our right to protect society from the effects of an unjust policy which by far the majority of businesses, church leaders, labour movements, civil rights groups and road users know is not inthe best interests of the people of this country.
However, it is never too late to halt a bad decision. Now, about that chat over a cup of tea…
* Duvenage is chairman of Outa.
The courts have ruled and it’s time to start paying for brilliant new roads, says Nazir Alli.
We have reached the point in the debate about the highways around Joburg and Pretoria where there is general agreement that the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) has resulted in better roads, well maintained and to the advantage of all users. On that, there is no dispute.
Also, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) is on record as saying it is not against the user-pay principle. It has also welcomed the improvements to the Gauteng highways.
I would imagine even the DA, given its ideological orientation, is not opposed to the user-pay principle. At any rate, it is already tolling Chapman’s Peak Drive in the province it governs and has welcomed the National Development Plan which proposes, among other things, the user-pay principle as one mechanism through which infrastructure can be funded.
But what simply does not go away is the continuous querying about the method of how this infrastructure should be funded. Although the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) has put forward its case for the user-pay principle time and time again, there is still a reluctance, almost a wilful reluctance, to accept that it is the best route to take.
But let’s get one important point out of the way – or better, two.
Sanral is a government agency. It does not make policy, nor does it have law enforcement powers. The government, through a parliamentary process, makes policy. Sanral implements policies of the government of the day.
Also, the user-pay principle, or tolling, was not invented by Sanral. And it is not new. It is contained in the White Paper on National Transport Policy that was published in 1996. Nobody raised it as an issue then, and it is only recently that it has suddenly come to the fore.
The application of this principle is authorised by law and has been carefully considered by the National Treasury and other government departments.
Again, it is not as if tolling the GFIP was chosen without considering other options, like the fuel levy – which is the one most often referred to. In two court cases – the Constitutional Court appeal case and the review application in the Pretoria High Court – Sanral and the Treasury made it clear that the fuel levy was considered and reasons were outlined why it was rejected.
In the latter case several reasons were advanced why the fuel levy was not the preferred option:
Funding from general revenue, through the fuel levy or otherwise, would break the link between use and payment.
Using the fuel levy exclusively to fund infrastructure in one province would transgress the requirement for an equitable division between provinces.
Allocating nationally raised revenue towards a single province is not consistent with the development objectives of the government.
An important issue not addressed by those who keep punting the fuel levy as a funding mechanism is that going the toll route made it possible to provide and upgrade roads sooner than using the traditional tax-based revenues that are often used to fund these roads. But for the funding model that was chosen, there is no guarantee that the GFIP would have happened without adversely affecting the other sectors – social wages – funded from tax-based revenue.
Where was the money going to come from or where were the cuts to be made? The government is currently running a deficit of just above 5 percent.
The issue of the fuel levy is just a red herring. It was considered, and rejected. Those who argue that it may be the most efficient way of collecting funds to finance roads tend to lean more on economic efficiencies rather than on social equity.
Not everything that is economically efficient necessarily results in narrowing the divide of inequality in our country.
Gauteng is a richer province than the rest of our provinces.
Would it be socially equitable to expect a nationally raised fuel levy, even as Gauteng contributes more to it, to fund one section of the highway and in the relatively wealthy part of the province? Don’t the other provinces need roads?
But look at it from a practical human point of view: if you are one of those people who very seldom or ever comes to Joburg or Pretoria, why should you, via the fuel levy, pay for the exceptionally high-standard roads that residents of and regular visitors to Gauteng use?
Economic analyst Roelof Botha, adjunct faculty at the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria, conducted a study which shows that the highest income-earning quintile in Gauteng will be responsible for more than 94 percent of total fees paid.
Combined with the second-highest income-earning quintile, this share rises to more than 99 percent, his study showed – and these groups are the greatest beneficiaries of the improved network.
When one takes into account that registered public transport will be exempted from paying toll fees on the Gautenge-tolled roads, the social equity considerations of the funding model become apparent.
Moreover, this matter has been through the courts and the courts have found – contrary to what some opponents say – that on merit, Sanral can go ahead.
To argue that the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) found that the application was dismissed merely on a technicality ignores that the court added that if it were to find on the merits, it would concur with an earlier judgment by thePretoriaHigh Court which had indeed dismissed the matter on merit.
To quote: “This means that in substance the appeal must fail,” the SCA said.
The Constitutional Court found that the premise of those who oppose the user-pay principle is that funding by way of tolling is unreasonable because there are better funding alternatives available, particularly fuel levies.
But, said the highest court in the country, that premise is flawed. Sanral “has to make its decision within the framework of government policy. That policy excludes funding alternatives other than tolling.”
And further: “The courts of this country do not determine what kind of funding should be used for infrastructural funding of roads and who should bear the brunt of that cost. The remedy in that regard lies in the political process.”
This pronouncement by the Constitutional Court was particularly instructive to those who seemingly do not understand the basic principles of our democracy.
In a democracy, the executive branch implements policies and programmes, administers the national budget and conducts national affairs – all of which fall outside the purview of the judiciary. Parliament enacts legislation and has oversight over the budget.
Sanral, as an implementing agency of government, implements government policies and that which has been passed in Parliament.
In this regard, the anger against Sanral is misdirected.
Critically, in a democracy it is the courts – and not a former chief executive officer of a car rental company – that determine whether a law or government action or policy is constitutional. Those who claim to be democrats must accept the rulings we have so far had on the GFIP matter. If they are not happy, they must go back to court.
Fanning civil disobedience when you have lost in court is a mark of disrespect for democracy and the independence of the judiciary – a hallmark of South Africa’s constitutional democracy.
Really, the issue of how these wonderful roads are funded ought to be dead by now.
To repeat, the matter has been argued in the courts of this country, and without a dissenting voice the unanimous finding was that on merit Sanral can go ahead with electronic tolling.
Let’s go now. Get an e-tag. It is the easiest and cheapest way to use these great highways.
* Alli is chief executive of Sanral.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.