Over 6,000 e-toll cases still heading to court – as government u-turns on scrapping the failed system again

Government has again indicated that the controversial and failed e-tolling system will not be scrapped – with transport minister Blade Nzimande saying it’s needed to pay over R67 billion in debt owed.

This marks the latest in the state’s non-committal and vague position on the system, which has been fraught with low compliance rates and wide public backlash from motorists and public transport associations.

At the end of July, the African National Congress (ANC) confirmed that it was actively taking steps to review the controversial e-toll system, when deputy chairperson of the ANC in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi, said that the Gauteng ANC planned to publish a formal stance on the termination of e-tolls sometime in August 2018.

However, in an interview with Talk Radio 702’s Karima Brown, Lesufi avoided the question of how Gauteng’s roads will be funded and maintained going forward, instead stating that the province first needs to ‘let go’ of the current system.

Now, speaking to SABC News, transport minister Blade Nzimande says that, while government hears and understands the public’s concerns over the system, there is no other way for the state to pay for and maintain the highways it has already built.

“We’ve got another problem that many people don’t want to deal with – we owe an amount of R67 billion. That’s the amount we owe on the freeways. If you take away e-tolls now…how do you pay the R67 billion?” Nzimande said.

Civil action group, Outa, which has been against e-tolling since the outset in 2013, said that this stance was counter to Nzimande’s position in March, when he acknowledged that the scheme had failed.

“In March, minister Nzimande indicated that the ‘disastrous e-tolls’ scheme could no longer be dragged out and a solution needed to be considered by cabinet,” said Rudie Heyneke, Outa’s transport portfolio manager.

“Now the Minister is reluctant to pull the plug on the e-tolls scheme as he wants this to pay for R67 billion of roads built by Sanral.”

Outa said that Nzimande “appears to be either confused or misinformed”, because the bonds obtained from the Public Investment Corporation for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) amounted to R20 billion and the Gauteng e-tolls cannot be used to fund borrowing for other roads.

On 29 November 2017, the former transport minister Joe Maswanganyi told Parliament that the debt was up to R48 billion, according to Hansard.

“How did this rocket by R19 billion to R67 billion in nine months?” Outa said.

Sanral still pursuing cases against motorists

Outa highlighted that with a compliance rate of 25%, any hopes of recouping anything close to R67 billion is lost, as the current revenues barely cover what it costs to collect the tolls in the first place.

On top of that, the group said that the losses continue as Sanral continues to wage a legal war with Gauteng residents by issuing thousands of summonses against e-toll defaulters.

According to Outa, on 17 August, the minister said in a written reply to Parliament (RNW2133) that Sanral was pursuing 6,071 cases in the magistrate’s courts and high courts in relation to outstanding e-tolls. The legal costs were not specified.

Outa said its lawyers are assisting in the defence of 1,028 of these cases.

Read: ANC being vague and non-committal over the scrapping of e-tolls

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Over 6,000 e-toll cases still heading to court – as government u-turns on scrapping the failed system again