Gauteng still plans to come after e-toll defaulters

Connie Queline

Gauteng still plans to come after e-toll defaulters

The Gauteng Provincial Government still plans to collect the e-toll debt from motorists.

Mampho Modise, deputy director-general of public finance at National Treasury, confirmed this in an interview with Moneyweb last week, saying that the treasury had to look at the existing e-toll debt, and “Gauteng has agreed that that debt should and will be collected”.

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

Modise confirmed that she was specifically talking about the e-toll debt of motorists and not the Sanral debt for bonds issued to pay for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

Modise said this is not a new agreement between National Treasury and the Gauteng Provincial Government but an agreement reached “in the past”.

“It took long because we had to understand the numbers, the implications and the timelines, but, for now, those agreements remain in place,” she said.

Asked how this debt will be collected from motorists, Modise said: “That would be between Gauteng and Sanral [SA National Roads Agency], and they are working on a process on how to do that.”

More confusion

Modise’s comments will add to the widespread confusion that already exists over the scrapping of e-tolls on the GFIP.

Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage said any thoughts National Treasury has of Gauteng chasing motorists for their e-toll debt will be “quickly squashed, and there’s no ways it will happen because of the elections”.

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi said in his State of the Province Address last week that the formal process to switch off and delink e-tolls on the GFIP will begin on 31 March 2024.

Lesufi confirmed that meetings were held with all affected parties, including Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana and Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga, and “all of us have now reached an agreement that by 31 March 2024 the formal process to switch off and delink e-tolls will begin and e-tolls will be history in our province”.

However, Godongwana reportedly said in response to questions on the budget from MPs in parliament’s joint finance committees last week that Gauteng had not yet met the preconditions that would allow the e-tolls to be scrapped.

E-toll refunds

Modise said last week, in response to the possibility of motorists being refunded for their e-toll payments, that the key to the agreements with Gauteng is that National Treasury “has a policy that users must pay for the economic infrastructure and Gauteng will then make a decision on how this will be funded”.

“If Gauteng has the R6 billion, and they make a decision that they won’t collect, it’s their decision,” she said.

“If they want to collect and would like Sanral to collect the debt, that is also their decision.

“The way in which we are looking at this agreement is to have some flexibility for the province to make a decision depending on the funding pressures that they have.

“So for now, the agreement is that those debts will be collected, and we will use the existing infrastructure that is there from Sanral to do the collections,” she said.

The possibility of a refund surfaced when 702 Eyewitness News reported in January 2023 that Lesufi had confirmed that almost R6.9 billion would be refunded to motorists who had been paying for e-tolls on the GFIP.

However, Lesufi backtracked on this statement in an exclusive interview with Moneyweb in October last year, claiming he did not say that and that it is one of the issues that need to be discussed.

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

Modise said what National Treasury is waiting for in terms of the e-toll gantries is the final Memorandum of Agreement between the province and National Treasury and “the province ensuring it do good in terms of the 30% of the debt that they need to pay”.

This is a reference to Godongwana’s statement in his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) speech in October 2022 that the Gauteng Provincial Government had agreed to contribute 30% to settling Sanral’s GFIP debt and interest obligations, while national government covers 70%.

The total amount to be paid by the provincial government is R12.9 billion, 30% of Sanral’s R43 billion debt.

Read:
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

Godongwana said Gauteng would also cover the costs of maintaining the 201km and associated interchanges of the GFIP roads, while any additional investment in the roads would be funded through either the existing electronic toll infrastructure or new toll plazas or any other revenue source within their area of responsibility.

In the MTBPS, R23.7 billion was allocated to Sanral to pay off government-guaranteed debt, but this allocation was conditional on a solution being found for Phase 1 of the GFIP.

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Funding gap

Modise explained last Wednesday that there were different dispensations related to e-tolls, which created a funding gap for the maintenance of the roads and also a Sanral loan redemption gap.

“We had to deal with two of these things when we were negotiating with Gauteng,” she said.

Godongwana was quoted by News24 last week as stating: “We had an agreement to split Sanral’s e-toll debt at 70:30. We made our commitment and gave money to Sanral last year. Now, the province is supposed to give us money.

“The province also has to answer the question: Who will do the maintenance? That is a discussion they are having with the Department of Transport.

“Unless that agreement is tied down, we can’t commit to when the gantries can go.”

Attempts by Moneyweb to clear up the confusion about the scrapping of e-tolls with the Gauteng Provincial Government were unsuccessful.

Lesufi’s spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla, referred Moneyweb to Joshua Ntimane, spokesperson for Gauteng MEC for Treasury Jacob Mamabolo, who in turn referred Moneyweb to Gauteng Provincial Treasury head of communications and spokesperson John Sukazi.

Sukazi said Mamabolo will present his budget on 5 March, and this matter will be clarified at that time.

‘Same old indecision’ 

Outa’s Duvenage described the situation as “just the same old confusion and indecision”.

Duvenage said the minister of finance’s statement on e-tolls indicates that “nothing has been finalised yet” and that the 31 March 2024 date to start switching off the e-toll gantries “is not cast in stone”.

He said Outa’s message to the remaining 10% of people “keeping the e-toll scheme on life support is that you have the power to switch it off”.

“You have the power to make government introduce its decision earlier.

“If everyone stops paying, then they don’t have the money to cover the administration costs, the post … and that then makes them sit up, as far as we are concerned, to say ‘let’s just implement’ [the switch-off],” he said.

“But while there’s R40 million a month still going into this hole, there is no compelling reason to stop it [e-tolls].

“I think somebody is making money out of that. It’s crazy. It’s confusing, but we are not surprised at all. It’s a joke,” he said.

Duvenage added that for many people who have not even received their e-toll accounts, the debt has been prescribed because summonses have to be issued in a certain period of time.

He said Outa also still has an open legal test case on the legality of the e-toll scheme.

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

Duvenage questioned why Gauteng had been roped in to pay 30% of Sanral’s debt and to maintain GFIP roads when these are Sanral assets.

“If there is a change in government in Gauteng, the new government is going to challenge this whole thing,” he said.

Read: Sanral considers new tolls

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