E-tolls sticking around for longer

 ·25 Jul 2023

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) has reportedly extended its e-tolls collection contract until December 2023, keeping the system operating as-is for longer.

In early June, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) raised alarm bells that another contract to extend collections might have already been signed, which has now been confirmed by Sanral, according to motor publication TopAuto.

The extension comes despite the system being “scrapped”, at least politically.

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.

However, despite the project’s supposed shutdown, the national road agency confirmed to TopAuto that its collection contract had been extended to 15 December 2023, and this means motorists must pay their e-toll bills until the relevant legislation has been repealed.

Outa labelled the contract extension and consequent delay to the e-toll shutdown as “either gross ineptitude, incompetence, or a reluctance by Government to end the scheme, for some unknown or obscure reason.”

The organisation added that the government’s incompetency is at play, and there is still massive confusion over the scheme’s future. 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.

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.

However, The Premier had previously announced that road users who had diligently paid their fees would be refunded, while those who boycotted the programme would have their debts excused.

Intellidex director Peter Attard Montalto recently wrote an opinion piece covered by BusinessTech, where he noted that refunds were not feasible given that the gantries are still operational and are, therefore, still billing motorists every day.

He believes the proposal for a refund is pointless and merely a tactic to gain attention before elections.

Read: South Africa’s latest own-goal

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