E-tolls have not officially been scrapped — at least not for now. This is despite Gauteng transport MEC Jacob Mamabolo stating during a radio interview on Thursday that e-tolls are “being scrapped”.
Acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said during a post-cabinet meeting media briefing on Thursday that a decision on the future of e-tolls has not yet been taken by cabinet. Ntshavheni said she thinks what Mamabolo was communicating “is the position of Gauteng, which is not new”.
“Gauteng has always lobbied for the scrapping of e-tolls and they have lobbied the national government for that and we continue to say what are the permutations that will enable that, should that happen given the financial commitments that have been made with the Gauteng Road Improvement Programme.
“But there is no decision at cabinet as we speak today around the scrapping of e-tolls or non-scrapping of e-tolls and the minister of transport continues to engage with all the parties that are relevant — national treasury, the Gauteng government — and also continues to update cabinet on the progress, research and various proposals that cabinet is considering and once considered, for the decision to be made.
“When cabinet is ready to take the decision, and when all matters have been considered, cabinet will take the decision and an announcement will be made,” she said.
Mamabolo referred in an interview on radio station SAfm to comments by transport minister Fikile Mbalula this week that a decision on the future of e-tolls is imminent.
“We (the provincial transport department) are already in our state of mind, and just in terms of our legitimate expectations, already living in the post-e-tolls period. We already believe that any announcement is imminent … but ministers, in what they have said, they’ve talked about ‘good news’. Imminent good news to us already means we are looking to a completely new e-toll dispensation, and we are just waiting for that to be formalised.
“But where we are, there’s no turning back on the e-tolls. E-tolls are a thing of the past and we are just waiting for that to be formalised, to be confirmed,” he said.
“They’re being scrapped. The people of Gauteng should not be burdened with paying for national roads that serve all of us, that serve neighbouring states, that serve the whole economy of our country. That is unfair to leave it to the people of Gauteng.
“All of us must pay, all of us must carry the burden. It must be fair, and it must be equitable. It is completely wrong to leave the burden of the national roads that support the economy only, exclusively, to the people of Gauteng. They have to be scrapped,” he said.
The Automobile Association said that while it shares Mamabolo’s sentiments that the system should be scrapped, no formal announcement has been made that they have been scrapped.
The association said that if a decision is taken regarding the scrapping e-tolls, several key questions must be answered, including whether people who have been paying e-tolls will be reimbursed and will outstanding debt owed to the system also be scrapped.
The AA said the future funding model is also an important issue that must be dealt with apart from simply saying that the system has been scrapped.
It reiterated its position that:
- E-tolls cannot be maintained in their current format;
- The system must be scrapped;
- People who have been paying e-tolls must be reimbursed;
- All debt must be written off; and
- An alternative funding mechanism through the ring-fencing of funds from the General Fuel Levy be adopted.
Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage said the government is making out that they are still contemplating the ramifications and permutations of scrapping e-tolls but claimed all that work has been done.
“I think that Mamabolo’s comment is the telling one. He says e-tolls have been scrapped and he’s let the cat out of the bag. That is the only decision they can make whether they want to announce it today or two months before the election, who knows? But it’s dead,” he said.
Duvenage believes Mamabolo’s comments will result in a further reduction in e-toll payment rates and, if compliance rates are at 18% or 16%, they will drop by a few percentage points again.
He also poured cold water on the AA’s view that people who paid their e-tolls should be reimbursed. Duvenage said there is no chance of that happening at all because there is no legal reason why the state has to repay it.
“There is a law in place and they (government) will say they were complying with the law. Those who paid, paid because they wanted to stay on the right side of the law. The 80% that didn’t pay said we are going to defy an unjust law and will face the consequences of summonses, jail time if need be, fines, whatever,” he said.
Duvenage added that roads agency Sanral has dropped “the enforcement ball” and is now unable to prosecute, withhold motorists’ licences or use blacklisting to force motorists to pay their e-tolls.
“Those people who decided to pay decided to pay out of convenience, and most of them are corporates who have passed those costs on to consumers already. It’s never going to happen. There will be no refund. The state doesn’t have the money, it’s going to be impossible to do and they don’t have to and they are not going to.”
- This article was originally published on Moneyweb and is used here with permission