The government has once again failed to meet its self-imposed deadline, set by transport minister Fikile Mbalula, to make an announcement on the future of the controversial e-toll system.
Mbalula made his most recent e-tolls deadline announcement on 6 May when he told the national council of provinces that a government announcement on the future of e-tolls would be made in the next two weeks.
“The decision is on the table. We expect that in the next two weeks we should be back to cabinet. “Before we (the department of transport) table our budget vote speech, we should have gone to you (the NCOP) and the public to announce the cabinet decision on the e-tolls. We have to finalise this decision in the next two weeks,” he said.
The two weeks is up.
The last day of the 14-day period within which Mbalula indicated an announcement would be made was Thursday, 20 May, but none was forthcoming from the government.
Mbalula will on Friday, 21 May deliver his budget vote speech, and could possibly make an announcement on e-tolls during this speech. However, cabinet spokeswoman Phumla Williams confirmed on Thursday that e-tolls had not been on the agenda of the cabinet meeting held on 12 May.
Williams further confirmed that a cabinet meeting was not held this week and the next cabinet meeting is scheduled to take place on 26 May.
Ayanda Allie Paine, spokeswoman for the transport minister, confirmed on Thursday that Mbalula will deliver his budget vote speech on Friday but stressed that she could not pre-empt anything that he may or may not be saying in the speech.
Paine added that Mbalula will also not release any announcement pertaining to the e-tolls unilaterally because “it is a matter between himself and treasury and until it is brought before cabinet”.
“The minister has met Tito Mboweni (the finance minister) and has presented to cabinet so now the necessary processes are under way. It’s not a transport (department) unilateral decision,” she said.
Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage said on Thursday it is expecting Mbalula to “say something” about the future of the e-toll system during his budget vote speech. However, Duvenage said Outa will not be surprised if an announcement is not made because of missed deadlines in the past. “Fikile just keeps digging this hole and the trust deficit keeps getting wider and wider,” he said.
The long-outstanding decision on the future of e-tolls decision dates back to July 2019 when President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Mbalula to head a task team, which also included finance minister Tito Mboweni and Gauteng premier David Makhura, to report by August 2019 on the options available for the future of e-tolls.
The appointment of this task team was prompted by staunch public resistance to e-tolls and the low e-tolls payment compliance rate, which was then below 19%. Since then a litany of false promises have been made by Mbalula and other government officials about an announcement on the future of e-tolls.
Mbalula confirmed in November 2019 that a cabinet decision on the e-toll scheme would be taken in the next two weeks but the late minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu subsequently promised in December 2019 during a post-cabinet meeting media briefing that a decision on the future of e-tolls will be taken in the first cabinet meeting in 2020.
A decision on the scheme was not announced, with Mbalula stating in February 2021 during a question and answer session in parliament on the state of the nation address that the government was expected to announce a decision on e-tolls in March 2021. Once again, the government failed to make any announcement on the issue.
“It shouldn’t have to drag on,” Duvenage said on Thursday. “Why aren’t they able to make what is an obvious decision? The citizens have made the decision for him – we are not paying. The sad reality is that 15% to 20% of people are paying under duress. They are not paying because they want to. They are just paying because they don’t want to be bullied by government, especially business.”
Reports this week indicated that the ANC did not support a Democratic Alliance motion tabled in the Gauteng legislature on the scrapping of e-tolls. Despite the ANC in Gauteng previously calling on national government to scrap the scheme, the motion reportedly obtained 19 votes in favour and 37 against.
Duvenage said this is just politics. “Obviously the DA will use this to flog the ANC, who don’t want to give them (the DA) any advantage in the local municipal elections.”
- This article was originally published on Moneyweb and is used here with permission