Government breaks e-tolls promise — coming for people who refused to pay

The Gauteng Provincial Government under premier Panyaza Lesufi (pictured) has broken its promise that motorists who had paid e-tolls were off the hook.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) noted the reversal, citing a Moneyweb interview with National Treasury deputy director-general Mampho Modise.

Modise reportedly told Moneyweb, “Gauteng has agreed that that debt should and will be collected”.

This comes after Lesufi promised more than a year ago that those who had paid would be refunded.

Lesufi made the promise during an interview on Radio 702, where he was pressed about missing the 31 December 2022 deadline for finally scrapping e-tolls.

He said several complexities had to be ironed out, such as whether people who had paid should be refunded.

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

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

Ten months later, Lesufi told Moneyweb that he had never promised that motorists would be refunded.

“I didn’t say that. I said it’s one of the issues that needs to be discussed,” he contended.

Outa questioned Modise’s most recent statement, saying it was confusing since Sanral collects e-toll debt, not the Gauteng provincial government.

“What makes the threat of going after those with outstanding e-toll debts even more confusing is that Sanral stopped issuing summonses against e-toll defaulters in 2019, and most of this debt has now prescribed,” said Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage.

Prescription is South Africa’s statute of limitations on debt collections.

Broadly, this stipulates that creditors can’t collect debts after three years from when they became due — unless certain conditions are met.

Finance minister Enoch Godongwana announced the end of e-tolls during his mini-budget statement in October 2022.

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

During last week’s State of the Province Address, Lesufi announced that e-tolls will be switched off by 31 March.

He also said the Gauteng provincial government has agreed to pay R12 billion towards Sanral’s e-toll debt to finalise the matter.

However, Lesufi also said to expect more details to be announced during Godongwana’s budget speech, which happened the day after his address.

E-tolls received no mention.

Responding to parliamentary questions from the joint finance committees, Godongwana said Gauteng had not yet met the preconditions for scrapping e-tolls.

However, shortly after that, transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga appeared on Newzroom Afrika and reiterated that e-tolls had been stopped.

“What we are working on is to switch off the gantries for tolling purposes. We are going to use gantries for crime-prevention purposes and no longer e-tolls,” Chikunga said.

Lesufi quoted a tweet with Chikunga’s interview and doubled down.

“eTolls are history. We will clear the confusion. Thanks to [the] Transport Minister clarifying this confusion. Sunrise will not find us where sunset let us. Days are never counted backward,” he said.

Wayne Duvenage, Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse CEO

Total confusion

“We are left more confused than ever by the latest announcement by Modise,” said Duvenage.

“Who should we believe, especially since it’s an election year with different politicians making so many different promises?”

Duvenage accused government of being indecisive and incapable of implementing its own policies.

“Between Sanral, Premier Lesufi, Minister Godongwana and the Department of Transport, it seems that nobody knows what is really going on when it comes to finalising the e-toll debacle.”

Outa said those in government intent on dragging out the e-toll matter seemed to have forgotten the test court case between Sanral and Outa supporters for summonses issued for outstanding e-toll debt, which remains in limbo.

Outa said its lawyers have been defending 2,028 cases on behalf of e-toll defaulters who received summonses from Sanral, with a total value of R262.590 million.

Of these, 1,929 cases with a total value of R112.276 million were brought in magistrates’ courts, with 99 cases in the high court valued at R150.315 million.

“An aspect of this case is challenging the constitutionality (therefore the lawfulness and enforceability) of the e-toll scheme,” Outa stated.

“In March 2019, Sanral’s board passed a resolution to stop e-toll summonses, and in the meantime, all these cases have been ‘placed on hold’, leaving the legal matter in limbo.”

Duvenage confirmed that Outa would defend every motorist who receives a summons from Sanral for outstanding e-toll debt, provided they give Outa the mandate to do so and that Outa has the funds.

“We will not merely accept government’s irrational plan to collect debt on their inefficient, costly and largely unworkable system, especially since they themselves announced that e-tolls will be cancelled,” said Duvenage.

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Government breaks e-tolls promise — coming for people who refused to pay