The government has been dragging its feet in bringing a conclusive end to e-tolls in Gauteng. With little to no directive as to what’s being done to address the situation, there’s a possibility that e-toll collections will continue until the end of 2023.
This is according to the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), which said government incompetency has led to the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) repeatedly extending the e-tolls collection contract without going through a new procurement process – even after the October 2022 announcement of the end of e-tolls.
Concerningly, Outa also noted that another contract to extend collections might have already been signed – which would mean motorists would be required to pay e-tolls until the end of 2023 – partly due to the confusion over the scheme’s future.
On 26 October 2022, Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana announced the end of e-tolls during the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS).
The MTBPS included two bailouts for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP): R23.736 billion to Sanral to pay off government-guaranteed debt and another R3.740 billion moved within the Sanral budget from non-toll roads to the GFIP.
“Despite Minister Godongwana’s announcement, the government has failed to end e-tolls or explain the debt situation formally.
“Ending the e-tolls requires the Minister of Transport to declare the GFIP roads no longer subject to tolls, which has not been done. So, e-toll bills still go out every month, and a handful of people pay,” said Outa.
Collection contract extensions
According to Outa, Sanral signed an extension to the e-tolls collection late last year despite the government announcing the end of e-tolls and the massive bailout from the fiscus.
The current extension is due to run out in “mid-June”, raising concern that another extension may already have been signed.
The Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) e-tolls collection agency is owned by the Austrian company Kapsch TrafficCom AG.
In Kapsch’s quarterly report for the period of October to December 2022, the company noted that “the existing contract for the tolling system in the Gauteng province was recently extended again until mid-June 2023”, so a contract from mid-December 2022 to mid-June 2023 would indicate a six-month contract.
This indicates that this extension was probably signed after the announcement of the end of e-tolls, said Outa.
The extension to mid-June indicates that another extension may be imminent if not already signed, which Outa believes is an overreach and a waste of money, considering the end of e-tolls was promised to be finalised by the end of 2022.
“Here we are in June 2023, and nothing has changed,” said Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage. “Government’s inability to implement its own decisions is at play here. We’ve seen this before, a lot is said, and nothing is done.”
In response to questions by BusinessTech regarding the current progress on e-tolls, Sanral said that these concerns have served as items under discussion in the official task team working on the practical implementation of the decision to scrap e-tolls.
However, it added that it reports to the relevant political principals – the Department of Transport and the Premier of Gauteng – and has yet to receive an instruction indicating the way forward.
The Premier of Gauteng did not respond to questions by the time of publication.
Duvenage added that the government must implement the decision they made in 2022, once and for all, so that “we can bring this debacle to an end”.