Time is running out for e-tolls

The South African National Roads Agency needs the government to decide on the future of electronic tolls in Gauteng province, as the coronavirus cuts its cashflow, the Sunday Times reported.

“We’re having to scurry around to ensure our liquidity,” the Johannesburg-based newspaper cited Sanral chief executive officer Skhumbuzo Macozoma as saying. “Until you solve the the e-tolls problem we won’t get out of this quagmire,” Bloomberg reported, citing the Sunday paper.

Macozoma said the decision on whether to keep the system or scrap it rests with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet. Only about 20% of users are paying e-tolls, the Sunday Times said.

If canceled, Sanral’s debt related to the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project will jump from around R40 billion to R67 billion.

South Africa’s lockdown to curb coronavirus cost Sanral more than R620 million, the Sunday Times said.

Mixed signals

Government representatives have given conflicting accounts on the future of the e-toll system.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula said in June that the controversial  system has had an impact on the country’s ability to raise external capital.

Mbalula said that Sanral and other roads agencies have been adversely affected by the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

“Sanral not only suffered from loss of revenue but delays in capital projects have also had an adverse effect. Sanral’s access to capital markets is limited as a result of a downgrade earlier in the year.

“You know we are dealing with a very difficult issue in the country which is the e-tolls. That has actually affected our capacity to borrow in the bond market to favour Sanral’s position.”

He added that this had a knock-on effect on other capital projects – such as potholes and the development of the new Moloto road.

“Those who borrow money say that they don’t care whether ‘the cat is black or white’ as long as the decision is taken around e-tolls. That is what brings certainty to Sanral and its credibility to borrow over time.”

Gauteng premier David Makhura recently said that president Ramaphosa assured him the system would be scrapped in favour of a more sustainable one.

“I have been assured by president Cyril Ramaphosa that a lasting solution has been found and an announcement by the president is imminent,” Makhura said.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni, however, has said that e-tolls will stay in place.

The e-toll system has been extremely unpopular since its inception, and this has resulted in many Gauteng residents not paying their outstanding e-toll fees.

E-tolls have a long and controversial history in South Africa since they were implemented in 2013 by Austrian company the Electronic Tolling Company (ETC), and the seven-year experiment is unlikely to be missed by many South Africans.

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Time is running out for e-tolls