E-toll refunds on the cards — but someone has to pay

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi has said that freeway users who paid their e-toll bills will be refunded.

This comes after Gauteng missed its deadline to scrap e-tolls on 31 December 2022.

In an interview on 702 talk radio, Lesufi said that they faced several tough decisions that contributed to the delay.

These included what to do with motorists’ outstanding e-toll bills and whether to refund those who have diligently paid.

Lesufi said that most of those who paid — around 37% — are businesses like car hire and transport companies.

“There is a clear decision now that we need to refund people — some form of refund,” said Lesufi.

He said R6.9 billion must be refunded. Gauteng must still decide whether refunds will be cash, or a credit that may be used to pay other road tolls.

Another difficult decision that remains is how Gauteng will raise the revenue needed to repay its 30% share of the South African National Roads Agency’s (Sanral’s) e-toll debt.

Lesufi said Gauteng’s portion was almost R12 billion.

Gauteng agreed to cover 30% of Sanral’s e-toll debt and interest obligations, with the national government pledging to handle the other 70%.

Lesufi said they were considering “various mechanisms” to raise the money, including:

  • A minimum toll fee anyone entering Gauteng must pay
  • Levies on licence fees
  • A fuel levy, such as a 3c per litre surcharge on fuel in Gauteng

“Obviously, there will be some form of payment. [For that] we have to consult,” said Lesufi.

“We don’t want to commit the same mistake that we had with e-tolls of imposing a transaction without consulting people,” Lesufi said.

“So, at the beginning of this year—now—we are going to unleash our consultative process.”

Lesufi said they were negotiating more lenient repayment terms, as Gauteng would prefer to repay the debt over 20 years rather than five.

“That would give us some breathing space,” Lesufi said.

As for the formal scrapping of e-tolls, Lesufi explained there was a legal process that needed to be undone.

He said they hoped to “un-gazette” e-tolls within the next two weeks.

“Thereafter, by the time we go to the State of the Province Address, it will be sorted out, and e-tolls will be deactivated, finally, in Gauteng.”

In a statement issued on 31 December — Gauteng’s original deadline for ending e-tolls — the provincial government said the switch-off would happen 14 days after the gazette withdrawing the scheme was published.

Questions about size of e-toll debt

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) raised questions about the South African National Roads Agency’s (Sanral’s) and the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project’s (GFIP’s) debt.

Outa said the GFIP upgrade was R20 billion, which Sanral borrowed.

E-tolling was the mechanism chosen to fund the GFIP and repay this debt.

“Since 2011/12, the national government has authorised government grants totalling R30.053 billion to Sanral for the GFIP,” Outa said.

“However, the GFIP debt remains inexplicably high, as National Treasury said this was R43.031 billion in March 2022.”

A Daily Investor analysis revealed major discrepancies in Sanral’s financial statements.

It also revealed that the roads agency has R41.2 billion available in cash from unspent government grants and payments from concession contracts.

This is enough money to cover most of Sanral’s debt — R49.6 billion in total — which includes what it owes for the GFIP.

It raises the question of why the national and Gauteng provincial government need to bail out Sanral to the tune of R40 billion.

Now read: South Africa’s R20-billion e-toll mess

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E-toll refunds on the cards — but someone has to pay