Transport minister tries to clear up e-toll confusion

 ·28 Feb 2024

Confusion over the future of e-tolling in Gauteng has hit a new level, with the provincial government insisting that the gantries will be switched off as soon as next month – but the National Treasury is unaware of any agreements in place to do so.

Now transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga has added her views into the mix, assuring that the purple-lit structures ignored by millions of Gauteng motorists will be switched off for e-tolling, but will stay active for other purposes.

Speaking to NewzroomAfrika, Chikunga said the e-tolls programme has already been stopped.

“What we are working towards is switching off the gantries for e-toll purposes – but not for other purposes. We will use the gantries for crime-prevention purposes – no longer for e-tolls,” she said.

She said the government is in the process of dealing with the regulatory changes – like declaring the previously tolled roads as non-tolled roads – as well as dealing with the future maintenance of the roads.

“In fact, the contractor has now been appointed; it’s just the date to actually introduce them (that needs to be set) so that they can start with the work. So we are moving towards switching off the gantries for tolling purposes, but we will use those gantries for other purposes.”

Treasury in the dark

Chikunga stepped into the discussion after Gauteng Panyaza Lesufi promised that e-tolls would be switched off by 31 March 2024, with more information to be presented during Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s budget speech.

During his State of the Province Address (SOPA) on 19 February 2024, Lesufi announced that e-toll gantries in Gauteng will officially start being switched off and delinked from 31 March, following meetings with the minister of finance and transport.

However, after Lesufi’s announcement – and e-tolls not getting a mention in the budget speech or supplementary documents – Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said that he was unaware of any agreements with Treasury to shut the gantries down.

Speaking to Jacaranda FM following the 2024 budget speech, Godongwana said that the Gauteng province has not yet presented its plans for repaying its share of the debt and how it plans to maintain the roads previously serviced by e-toll revenue.

“We have made our own commitment and gave Sanral money last year, so [Gauteng] has to give [Treasury] money.

Unless an agreement is tied down, I can’t commit as to when the gantries can go,” he added.

However, Chikunga appears to support Lesufi’s version of events, reiterating that e-tolls have come to an end. She said there is no agreement that needs to be signed, as Treasury has already determined that e-tolls would end with a 70/30 split in paying off the debt.

The only question that remains is how Gauteng will pay its 30% share of the debt.

Confusion continues

Adding to the continued confusion over the purported end of e-tolling, deputy director-general of public finance at National Treasury, Mampho Modise told Moneyweb this week that the government would be coming after unpaid e-tolls.

Gauteng has agreed that around R6 billion in e-toll debt should and will be collected,” she said, referring specifically to the e-toll debt owed by motorists.

This is contrary to statements given by Lesufi during an interview on Radio 702 in December 2022 that those who had paid their e-tolls would be refunded.

Ten months later, Lesufi denied that he ever promised that motorists would be refunded.

“I didn’t say that. I said it’s one of the issues that needs to be discussed,” he told Moneyweb.

Responding to the latest mess around e-tolling, civil action group Outa accused the government of being indecisive and incapable of implementing its own policies.

The group said that Modise’s comments made no sense, given that any debt held by motorists would have to be collected by road agency Sanral – a national competency – and not the Gauteng provincial government, which is now in charge of paying the balance of the debt.

“What makes the threat of going after those with outstanding e-toll debts even more confusing is that Sanral stopped issuing summonses against e-toll defaulters in 2019, and most of this debt has now prescribed,” said Wayne Duvenage, Outa’s CEO.

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