We’re still waiting for cabinet to make a final decision on e-tolls: Mbalula

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says that his department is being impeded from rolling out new road infrastructure projects because of a lack of resolution around Gauteng’s e-tolls.

In a media briefing on Thursday (1 October), the minister said that president Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet is set to finalise a new funding model for the project after receiving proposals from his department.

Mbalula admitted that he thought the issue would have been resolved by now, but that the process has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Now that we are easing the lockdown to level 1 we are prepared to expedite the roll-out of infrastructure projects and to also resolve the issue of the e-tolls,” he said.

In September, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) said that the government needs to urgently decide on the future of electronic tolls in Gauteng province, as the coronavirus cuts its cashflow.

“We’re having to scurry around to ensure our liquidity,” Sanral chief executive officer Skhumbuzo Macozoma told the Sunday Times.

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 reported.

If cancelled, 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.

Mbalula previously said that the controversial system has had an impact on the country’s ability to raise external capital.

“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.”

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We’re still waiting for cabinet to make a final decision on e-tolls: Mbalula