E-toll pain not over

While the Gauteng provincial government (GPG) and national transport ministry have proudly celebrated the recent shutdown of e-tolls, many questions remain about what will happen to the scheme’s outstanding debt.

Although e-toll charges stopped on 12 April 2024, historical e-toll debt has not been scrapped.

The shutdown of the e-toll system was enabled through a years-long negotiated agreement between the national government, GPG, and the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral).

Sanral previously operated the system and had planned to use it to fund the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

As part of that deal, National Treasury is paying 70% of Sanral’s estimated R43-billion e-toll debt, while the GPG must contribute the remaining 30%.

However, transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga has repeatedly emphasised that e-toll defaulters remain obliged to pay their debts.

“On how we will enforce or not enforce, that is a matter we have not discussed, we will be tending to that as time goes on,” Chikunga said.

The minister’s statement confirms that the government still plans to collect outstanding e-toll debt from motorists who incurred it. They are not getting a free pass.

Sindisiwe Chikunga, Minister of Transport

There are several avenues available to pursue the debt.

While the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) has confirmed it will maintain its policy of not proceeding with legal action against e-toll defaulters, this could change after the discussions Chikunga referred to.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) said that going after the historic debt would be futile.

It explained that because Sanral has not issued summonses over e-toll bills since 2019, most of the debt is considered prescribed unless motorists acknowledge it.

Prescribed debt is “old debt” that has passed a three-year mark without being paid or acknowledged by the debtor.

While the payment of prescribed debt is not legally enforceable, it can be reported to credit bureaus and negatively impact your credit score.

In addition, the creditor can recover acknowledged debt through collectors, wage garnishment, bank account levies, or seizure of personal property.

Questions over Gauteng’s loan

The Gauteng government will be taking on a whopping R12.9 billion in debt through a loan or loans to facilitate the e-toll shutdown. The DA has criticised this strategy as it would incur additional interest.

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi said the GPG chose to pay the e-toll debt over a longer term as an immediate drawdown on the province’s budget would impact important services — including health.

“If you go to a financial institution and say instead of paying, for example, R1 billion a year, we will pay R750 million a year for the next 25 years and they accepted that, that is the one we take,” Lesufi said.

Lesufi said there was a government institution that the GPG asked to lend it the money. He did not reveal its name, but the province later said the loan would be secured from commercial banks.

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi

Finance MEC Jacob Mamabolo previously said the province planned to use motor vehicle licence fees and provincial taxes to pay off the loans. However, he was mum on details.

“We are going to expand our footprint and increase revenue through motor vehicle licences by opening more places where people can renew their licences…and we can look at what we can get from the gambling board as extra resources,” Mamabolo told News24.

Outa’s Wayne Duvenage blasted this approach as “creative accounting”.

“It is quite a joke, and it does not make sense to force the province to pay for the debt. We are oversubscribed in debt,” said Duvenage.

The GPG has yet to confirm whether it has secured the loan. As of early April 2024, it had not yet achieved this.

MyBroadband asked the province for an update on this matter in May, but it did not provide feedback.

The DA said if the GPG failed to secure a loan, it would be “back to the drawing board” for the province.

The GPG will also need to reach an agreement with Sanral about a further R4.1 billion in freeway maintenance.

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E-toll pain not over