South Africa’s e-toll disaster – Sanral only has itself to blame

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) only has itself to blame for the disastrous failure of the e-toll system, as it did not do sufficient research on why the system failed in other countries and signed poor contracts.

This is according to The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), which was responding to comments made by Sanral CEO Skhumbuzo Macozoma regarding the e-toll system.

Macozoma told the Sunday Times last month that government needs to decide soon whether it will be scrapping the e-tolls project.

This is because Sanral is facing ever-increasing debt issues due to the non-payment of e-tolls by Gauteng drivers, and this is threatening the liquidity of the state-owned enterprise (SOE).

“We need an answer and we need it urgently,” said Macozoma. “The matter is sitting with cabinet and we must push for a decision to be made as soon as possible.”

“We are not pushing the e-toll agenda at all costs anymore,” he added.

However, the government has not been clear on the future of the e-toll system.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura previously said that the e-toll system will be scrapped in favour of a better system.

“I have been assured by President Cyril Ramaphosa that a lasting solution has been found and an announcement by the President is imminent,” he said.

This follows comments by Makhura in 2019 that the Gauteng provincial government was willing to provide financial contributions to ensure that the system is scrapped.

Tito Mboweni, however, has contradicted this by saying that the system will stay in place.

Don’t blame Gauteng drivers for Sanral’s problems – Outa

Outa published a statement following Macozoma’s comments which were critical of Macozoma’s equating the lack of revenue from e-tolls to the national roads backlog of R400 billion.

“Sanral is conflating the Gauteng upgrade with other national challenges they have and should not lay the blame of their funding woes at the doorstep of Gauteng road users who were rightfully defiant of a grossly inefficient and expensive scheme,” said Outa.

It noted that Sanral effectively wanted e-tolls to generate almost a quarter of Sanral’s revenue from just 1% of its road-network.

“We now have almost seven years of empirical evidence that the scheme was unworkable, yet Mr Macozoma still speaks in a manner that seeks the public to embrace e-tolls,” said Outa.

Outa believes that Macozoma’s comments show that Sanral is unwilling to take responsibility for the failed e-toll system and the poor contracts it signed.

“The public’s resistance to e-tolls was a self-inflicted pain brought about by Sanral’s poor research on why these schemes fail around the world,” said Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage.

“To add to their woes, Sanral’s overpayment at R18bn for the Gauteng freeway upgrade was more than double the price that should have been paid. Why don’t we ever hear them apologising to society for placing us under this unnecessary pressure and what are they doing about addressing the perpetrators of these crimes?” said Duvenage.

The history of e-tolls

E-tolls were first implemented in December 2013 and were quickly contended by the DA, which said it would be going to court to have e-tolls declared unconstitutional. However, the DA’s application was shot down by the Western Cape High Court.

By June 2014, the Gauteng provincial government had made it clear that the e-toll system was not working properly and they wanted it to be reviewed.

An advisory panel was soon set up to execute this review, and Sanral stopped prosecuting those who didn’t pay their e-tolls as per government directive.

At this point, unregistered Gauteng motorists reportedly owed over R1 billion.

In February 2015, however, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said that the e-toll system would not be scrapped; instead, motorists would be given “major financial relief” and a hybrid funding model would be introduced which included contributions by both provincial and national government.

The major financial relief came in the form of significant decreases to e-toll prices, while out-standing e-toll fees would be discounted by 60%.

In the next few years, controversy after controversy would befall the e-toll system, including rumours of the system’s collapse, and new threats and ways to punish drivers who did not pay their e-tolls.

In February 2018, Makhura said that e-tolling had not worked and that he would be working with President Ramaphosa to develop an alternative funding model.

It is now over two-and-a-half years since Makhura made this statement, however, and e-tolls are still not yet scrapped.

To read a more in-depth detailing of the e-toll system’s controversial history, click here.

Now read: South Africa’s new demerit system – The points for traffic offences and when you will lose your licence

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South Africa’s e-toll disaster – Sanral only has itself to blame