E-toll debt decision could lead to a downgrade: finance minister

Finance minister Tito Mboweni urged the South African National Roads Agency to reverse a decision not to chase down people who aren’t paying electronic tolls to fund a freeway upgrade around Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The state-owned company known as Sanral has faced resistance to e-tolls from motorists since their inception in 2013 and hasn’t issued public debt in at least three years following a drop in revenue caused by the boycott.

South Africa’s transport ministry earlier this month said it transferred R5.7 billion ($397 million) to the agency to cover a lack of funding.

“I am very unhappy with the decision by the Sanral board not to pursue those who have been defaulting on their e-tolls,” Mboweni told reporters in Pretoria on Thursday.

“They must reverse the decision immediately or else this has implications for the bond market, it has implications for the fiscus, it has implications for their own credit rating and the credit rating for the country.”

Economists are split on what Moody’s Investors Service will do when it potentially makes an announcement on South Africa’s credit assessment Friday.

Moody’s is the only one of the world’s three largest ratings agency that rates South Africa investment grade, helping it stay clear of a forced sell-off of billions of rand of its debt.

“People must learn that you don’t take careless decisions in the middle of a very difficult financial situation,” Mboweni said. “Pay your taxes, render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and that’s it.”

Read: Sanral will not pursue e-toll debts

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E-toll debt decision could lead to a downgrade: finance minister