As clear as mud, the confusing e-toll saga continues

Connie Queline

As clear as mud, the confusing e-toll saga continues

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JEREMY MAGGS: Now here’s a question, have e-tolls actually been switched off or are they about to? The Gauteng premier (Panyaza Lesufi) has his hand on his heart. Arch detractor, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) chief executive, Wayne Duvenage, says he doesn’t believe it or the assertion that Gauteng motorists will be refunded for paying their e-toll bills. Wayne Duvenage is with us now. Firstly, do you believe the gantries will or have been deactivated?

WAYNE DUVENAGE: No, I don’t. The plan is, they said, by March 31, I don’t believe that’s going to happen as well because there’s far too much confusion on this matter now.

Read: E-tolls to be ‘switched off’ from 31 March – Lesufi

JEREMY MAGGS: Where is the confusion?

WAYNE DUVENAGE: Well, we hear from the recent announcement, which Roy Cokayne reported on, during the lockdown with Treasury before the budget speech, the question was asked, ‘Where is this funding and how is it going to take place?’ Now we are hearing that there’s still a plan to go and collect funds from motorists, e-tolls, which Sanral (South African National Roads Agency) is the only entity that does this. They’ve stopped summonsing in March 2019.

We are heading to five years later, and if there’s no enforcement mechanism in place, which there isn’t, other than going about civil claims and summonses, then you can’t collect and 90% of the public are not paying. There’s prescribed debt. It’s been going on for far too long now, the non-payment, and they’re never going to be able to suck what is outstanding from e-toll motorists out the economy. It’s just not going to happen.

Read: Gauteng still plans to come after e-toll defaulters

So to hear Treasury telling the public that, well, this is still a mechanism of financing, when in October 2022, 18 months ago, they’ve announced that e-tolls is not the mechanism they’re going to use to pay for the infrastructure. It is just becoming so confusing, Jeremy, that we really now need clarity.

Then you’ve got Panyaza Lesufi saying, we’re going to refund those who’ve paid. Then he says, ‘No, I didn’t say that’. Well, he did, he’s on record as saying that, and they have to pay 30% of the outstanding debt for the upgrade. There’s just so much out there. The numbers all differ. We don’t know what’s going on.

Read:
Sanral yet to receive any ‘firm instruction’ on e-toll refunds [Jan 2023]
Lesufi backtracks on e-tolls refund plans [Oct 2023]

JEREMY MAGGS: How do you interpret that confusion, Wayne? Is it simply a sign of desperation from the Treasury, do you think?

WAYNE DUVENAGE: I think it’s a sign of firstly people not coming together, those in authority when I say people, to finally lay out the plan on what they’re going to do going forward. We thought we had that in October 2022 when Enoch Godongwana, the finance minister, announced the end of tolls from a funding point of view for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) and that this was going be done via a combination of Treasury 70% and 30% from the Gauteng province. They had to work out that funding mechanism between them. It’s now 18 months later, and it sounds like they still haven’t got clarity on that.

ead:
Government passes the e-toll’ hot potato’ to Gauteng government
Confusion over how much Gauteng must pay Sanral to settle e-toll debt
Outa wants clarity on Sanral’s debt before bailout is finalised

Gauteng, as we know, is broke and, secondly, is 85% to 90% funded by Treasury anyway. So whether it comes from Treasury via Gauteng, it’s neither here nor there. But we must always remember that the debt was entered into between Sanral and the Department of Transport that is, by the way, very silent on this because everyone who’s doing the talking is Treasury and the province, when it’s actual debt that Sanral entered into when they built these roads and decided through the Sanral Act to introduce tolling on Gauteng’s roads. These are their roads and we’ve also said, ‘Why is Gauteng paying for and agreeing to maintain Sanral’s roads? They’re not on Gauteng’s asset register’.

So again, more and more confusion reigns and I think this is just a sign of people in positions of authority who are unable to make a final decision and then implement that decision. If you can’t implement your own decisions, well, then we have this confusion and this never-ending saga on e-tolls.

JEREMY MAGGS: So silence from the Department of Transport. What is Sanral saying about this?

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WAYNE DUVENAGE: Nothing. When we go back to 2008, right up until 2015, it was Sanral that did all the talking. It was Sanral that convinced government this is the way to go, that got the finances and that forced this issue onto the public. Now they are silent. Obviously at the time, it was Nazir Alli, it was his plan, he was desperate to make it work. He’s since left and everybody’s looking at the Department of Transport and the Treasury to say, well, what are you guys going to do?

Well, actually Sanral needs to take the bull by the horns. They need to finalise this deal and they need to go to Treasury and Department of Transport and say, let us implement this decision once and for all, because they’re the only ones who know who owes what, and when you start talking about going back to the public to finance, to pay for the e-toll bills, you have to have Sanral in that discussion.

When you ask them, what are you doing about collecting this debt from the motorists, they will tell you that they’re doing nothing. They’re billing the 10% or 15% or so who are paying and that’s it.

They send out letters of demand every now and then, some people pay, but by and large 85% to 90% of people are not paying and the debt keeps mounting, the so-called debt, which most of it now is prescribed.

JEREMY MAGGS: Who is still paying voluntarily I wonder?

WAYNE DUVENAGE: It’s mainly the car rental companies, the fleet companies and some companies that just don’t want to step out of line with government and laws. So they will pay, they’ll pass these costs on to the consumer, their customers, so that they aren’t really effectively paying. It’s you and I, the customers, who use the logistics companies who are still paying. But not even government departments, Jeremy, are paying, not even government departments, most of them are broke anyway. So it’s crazy that government departments aren’t paying their e-toll bills and yet some companies are. We’ve been saying for some time now, if these last 10% to 15% of the people who are paying just stopped paying, it would force government to make their decision a lot quicker.

Read: E-tolls: Calls for business and society to stop paying

But for now, the R40 million a month that they’re collecting on e-tolls, well below the R300 million, is paying off for the collection process. All they’re doing is paying for the people to collect the money. It’s an administrative process and the sooner we end that the quicker I think we’ll force government to implement their decision.

JEREMY MAGGS: While all of this is happening, of course, our roads continue to deteriorate.

WAYNE DUVENAGE: Ja, they do but national road funding is done by a combination of Treasury grants to Sanral, as well as their own e-tolling mechanisms. A lot of them work around the country, those 100% collection rates when the boom doesn’t lift until you pay are very different to an electronic tolling of drive now, pay later, which has failed. But they get their funding from Treasury and their e-tolls and then Treasury funds the provinces to fix their roads.

The sad reality is that most of those provinces do not fix the roads with that money. They spend it and misspend it in other areas, which is why the potholes get bigger.

Then at the local government level, they’re supposed to collect money from the ratepayers and fix the potholes, water leaks, traffic lights, and so on, and they don’t do that either. Badly managed, I’m not saying all of them, but many of them, Joburg City and Ekurhuleni are two massive cities that are failing in this regard.

JEREMY MAGGS: All right, Wayne Duvenage, thank you very much indeed.

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