The SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) is approaching several banks in the hope of raising R1.48 billion, it said on Wednesday (31 July).
Sanral’s toll and traffic manager Alex van Niekerk said the bulk of the amount needed was to service debt on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).
“We are reaching the stage, in the next three months, when it will become critical,” he said.
E-tolling to fund the project had not yet started, but the monthly cost of the necessary infrastructure amounted to about R25 million.
Van Niekerk said he could not name the commercial banks Sanral was approaching for the loan.
Sanral’s business comprised two portfolios: the non-toll portfolio which accounted for 84%, and which was financially healthy. The remaining 16% was the toll portfolio component, which included the GFIP.
Sanral was not facing bankruptcy, because only the smaller portfolio had cash flow problems. This had not yet affected Sanral’s capacity to maintain other existing toll roads, van Niekerk said.
Last week Bloomberg reported that the agency had run out of money, with debt totalling R65 billion, including interest.
The group denied that it had run out of money to the extent that investors were reluctant to provide more funding.
“Reports that Sanral is broke are factually incorrect. Sanral operates two portfolios – the toll roads and non-toll roads,” spokesman Vusi Mona said in a statement last Thursday (25 July).
However, van Niekerk said that new projects to extend highways had not been put out to tender because Sanral was reluctant to take on more debt at present.
He could not say when e-tolling was likely to become a reality. This depended on the adoption of the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill and the pending legal battle about e-tolling.
Sanral said in April it would begin e-tolling on Gauteng’s roads within two months. The Opposition to Urban Tolling Allowance (Outa) had been fighting the implementation of e-tolling in the courts.
On January 25, the Constitutional Court granted Outa leave to take the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. The case is expected to be heard in September.
Van Niekerk said Sanral had “no reason… to not be confident” about the outcome of the legal battle, as the courts had twice found in its favour.
Last April, the High Court in Pretoria granted Outa an interdict approving a full judicial review before electronic tolling could be put into effect.
The interdict prevented Sanral from levying or collecting e-tolls, pending the outcome of a review. Sanral and the National Treasury appealed the court order.
In September, the Constitutional Court set aside the interim order. In December, the High Court in Pretoria dismissed Outa’s application to scrap e-tolling.
Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona said Sanral still hoped to “win the hearts” of Gauteng motorists.
The public should bear in mind that government made policy and it was Sanral’s job to implement that policy, he said.
“If we had it our way, we would not even get involved in funding.”
He said that the GFIP relied on the “user pays” principle in much the same way as was envisaged for the National Development Plan (NDP).
“The great majority are raving about the NDP. Contained in there, the user pays principle features,” Mona said.
“We think South Africans are reasonable, we think they will come round [to e-tolling].”
Earlier, it was reported that the agency had run out of money, with debt totalling R65bn, including interest. The agency reportedly borrowed R20bn from local and foreign investors to fund the GFIP.
Plans to introduce e-tolling on these freeways had encountered resistance from various sectors of society.