Despite assurances from opposition civil society groups JPSA and Outa last week, Sanral has confirmed that it plans to use a recent high court decision as a precedent to go after Gauteng motorists who have not paid e-tolls.
In January, the Pretoria High Court granted a default judgement in favour of Sanral against an Alberton-based company on the grounds that the debtor had an outstanding toll amount of R436,407.57. The court further ordered to pay interest at the rate of 10.25% as well as the relevant sheriff’s fees.
According to the head of Justice Project South Africa, Howard Dembovsky, the ruling meant very little for motorists outside demonstrating that if you simply ignore a civil summons for “debt”, a default judgment is likely.
The ruling is also unlikely to impact the ‘test e-toll case’ currently being formulated by civil action group Outa, Demobovsky said.
According to JPSA and Outa, the ruling doesn’t demonstrate anything new or set any new precedents: if you fail to show up to defend any case, you will have a default judgement laid against you.
“My advice to motorists is what it has always been. If you aren’t paying e-tolls and receive a summons – defend it,” JPSA’s Dembovsky said.
Outa,meanwhile, said that any of its members that receive a summons from Sanral, and lets the civil action group know, will be defended under Outa’s ‘umbrella’ protection, with its test-case agreement with Sanral.
Outa went further, however, and questioned the validity of the judgement altogether, after after the group received word from the defendant in the case, claiming that she had never received the court summons.
Outa head Wayne Duvenage said that the defendant would try and get the verdict rescinded on that basis.
The group dismissed Sanral’s claims as posturing, and using its old tactic of using threats and intimidation to scare Gauteng road users – who have widely rejected the e-toll system – into paying money before the legitimacy of the system has been tested in court.
Sanral plans to take things further
Despite the validity and seriousness of the judgement being brought into question, Sanral has confirmed that it plans to use the high-court decision as the basis for the collection of e-tolls going forward.
Notably, Sanral says the judgment sets a precedent for motorists and companies who do not pay e-toll debt to be taken to court, Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona told Fin24 on Monday.
“It also means that the proof of the default submitted by Sanral was accepted by the court. We are confident that the default judgment in our favour will be persuasive for other courts when deciding subsequent cases,” he added.
He noted that the agency had an obligation in terms of the Public Finance Management Act and Treasury Regulations to collect fees and that there was not enough money in the national budget for the debt.
“There are urgent and competing demands on the budget, such as improved health care, education and social security payments. This makes it necessary and unavoidable to selectively use tolling as a funding mechanism.”