Civil action group Outa has slammed proposals by road agency Sanral to potentially withhold licence renewals or block the sale of motor vehicles until owners have paid up their outstanding e-tolls.
The suggestions were made in a presentation by Sanral to the parliamentary portfolio committee on transport on Tuesday, where the group said talks with the relevant departments over the impasse around e-toll payments was at an advanced stage.
Government has been flip-flopping on e-tolls for years, moving between indications that the system will be scrapped and insistence that it will remain in place to pay the billions owed in debt.
According to Sanral, with no clear political directive that the system will be scrapped, the group will move to find ways to force motorists to pay their bills. It told the parliamentary committee that it has made several suggestions, and that the matter is now with the president and the relevant parties.
Among the suggestions is that vehicle licence renewals be withheld until e-toll bills are paid up, or the sale of a vehicle with e-toll debt be blocked.
According to Outa, Sanral also suggested that SARS could serve as an e-toll debt collector in some capacity – or that insurers should refuse to insure vehicles that have outstanding debt.
“(These suggestions) are nothing short of desperate threats that will be extremely difficult to implement,” Outa lead, Wayne Duvenage said.
“For Sanral to suggest that motorists’ vehicle licenses will be withheld because of e-toll debt, is ludicrous and illegal. Should they attempt to go down this road, Outa will engage with its legal advisors and the public to challenge these developments.
“The impact of using coercive tactics such as blocking vehicle relicensing or vehicle sales in order to force the payment of e-tolls, will have negative unintended consequences. It will drag the already cash-strapped municipalities into the e-toll fight. It will impact negatively on local government’s revenue streams and policing processes,” he said.
Outa said that Sanral’s presentation and the lack of direction from government was a clear indication that the state “intends to remain adversarial” on the matter.
The department of transport most recently said that e-tolls would not be scrapped, because the system was needed to pay off R67 billion in debt tied to Sanral.
In its integrated report for the 2017/2018 financial year Sanral reported that its financial position hit a point where it found it necessary for the first time to transfer R1.6 billion from the non-toll business to the toll road portfolio.
President Cyril Ramaphosa had committed to resolving the e-toll issue by the end of May 2018, with an “official stance” on the system expected to be published sometime in August.
Both deadlines passed by without any statement.
It is understood that the e-tolling system is a hot political issue, with analysts believing that will be kept in limbo until the 2019 national elections.