No end date in sight for e-tolls

 ·11 May 2023

Gauteng motorists look set to receive e-toll bills for the foreseeable future, as The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) has given no update on when the scheme will be terminated, according to OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenage.

Duvenage said that the scheme has been “dead” for years, with President Cyril Ramaphosa asking the then transport minister Fikile Mbalula to find alternative funding solutions as far back as 2019.

In October 2022, Finance Minster Enoch Godongwana said that allocations from Treasury (70%) and the Gauteng government (30%) would finance Sanral’s GFIP debt.

Duvenage said that Godongwana’s announcement was required as the initial toll road declaration could not be amended unless the debt for construction loans was committed to via an alternative funding mechanism.

After the October announcement, Gauteng’s Premier Panyaza Lesufi said that the e-toll scheme would be discontinued by 31 December 2022.

However, to date, e-tolls are still running, and it remains unclear when they will be turned off.

Sanral said that the decision rests with National Treasury and Gauteng Provincial Government, despite Sanral making the initial decision and E-toll declaration which the Department of Transport approved.

Duvenage said no one is taking responsibility, resulting in the continued use of the system.

He added that the system will continue to run until Sanral introduces a gazette which announces the amendment to the initial tolling declaration of Gauteng’s freeways.

The exact end date of e-tolls is not the only issue that needs to be addressed further, as Lesufi previously said that the Gauteng Government will refund R6.8 billion to all motorists who paid their e-tolls.

Duvenage believes that the premier did not put much thought into his statement, as it remains unclear if the provincial government could even afford to refund motorists.

Some possible relief 

Confusion over the refunding of e-tolls may also affect users who still have a tab open.

The Inclusive Society Institute (ISI) previously expressed concerns over the Gauteng government’s plan to write off all outstanding e-toll debts, arguing that the decision is not equitable for those who have paid their fees since 2013.

The group said that it assumed stakeholders would find a mutually acceptable agreement for payers and non-payers, however, it was then presented with a legal opinion that made the question moot.

“The proposed course of action aimed at writing off the outstanding e-toll debt is unlawful,” the ISI said.

“This means that road users that have accumulated e-toll debt have no option other than to settle such debt to Sanral. The legal opinion states that the ‘South African constitutional law dictates that the South African National Roads Agency Limited does not have the power to retrospectively excuse the non-payment of e-toll fees once incurred’.”

However, Duvenage said that the ISI’s argument is technical and does not account for several other key factors.

“In the real world of practical eventualities, Sanral has no option but to write off the outstanding e-toll debt. Regardless of whether the PFMA says they can’t, the IFRS (to which Sanral is also bound) says they can’t reflect unrealisable outstanding debt in their financial statements – which they haven’t,” he said

“Much of the outstanding collections (public debt to them) has also prescribed, as they haven’t issued invoices or summonses to collect. In reality, if Sanral is unable or unwilling to collect these outstanding e-toll revenues, this indirectly means it’s ‘written off’.”

Duvenage also noted that the eventual shutting down of E-tolls will not affect Sanrals’ budget, as their revenues come from National Treasury as they have not been able to collect e-tolls.

Although Sanral has previously said that e-toll gantries could generate roughly R5.7 billion annually in traffic fines, Duvenage said that repurposing gantries will not add much to their coffers.

What can motorists do?

Duvenage said that anyone still paying e-tolls is wasting their money.

However, one area of concern regards car rental companies charging their customers e-toll fees, with the OUTA CEO saying that these car companies are benefitting from the system.

“The car rental and fleet management companies are actually making money out of the e-toll scheme, as their bills from Sanral per vehicle are capped per month, yet they don’t cap the e-toll charges to their short term users.”

“They also charge ‘admin fees’ on top of the e-toll charges. This might explain why they are not rushing to stop paying their (clients’) e-tolls.”

“The car rental and leasing customers should put these companies under pressure to stop this charade and end their participation in the failed scheme. If government have announced the end of the scheme and also stated that those who have paid will be refunded, then why on Earth do car rental and fleet companies continue to support the scheme?”


Read: ‘End of the road’ for South Africa

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