Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has provided an update on the future of Gauteng’s controversial e-toll system, warning that motorists should expect further delays as the government mulls its options for funding.
Answering in a written parliamentary Q&A, Mbalula said that his department has tabled various funding options around the Electronic Toll on Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) for a cabinet decision.
However, after consideration of the options, the cabinet directed that both the Department of Transport and National Treasury should jointly re-look at the options and resubmit their proposals for consideration.
“It is important to note that the department is committed to finding a workable solution that does not ‘drown the country in debt’ but is equally sensitive to the public’s issues and once it is clear on the sustainable model, a submission will then be made for cabinet’s final decision,” he said.
Mbalula added that a date for announcement on the future of e-tolls cannot be determined at this stage, as the discussions around funding for the system continue to take place, focusing on the various financial options available.
“The process to pronounce on the future of the e-toll take time, as the two Transport and Finance minister had to first meet, and in their meeting they agreed that further studies be conducted to inform the decision to be made.”
The government indicated back in February 2020 that a final announcement on the e-toll problem was “imminent”, but plans were upset by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. By October, stakeholders were left scratching their heads as more promises were made about a solution, but none were forthcoming.
Mbalula promised an answer on e-tolls by 20 May 2021, but this deadline passed without a word. The minister then told the National Council of Provinces that an announcement, again, was “imminent”, and nothing came.
Waive all debt
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has called on finance minister Enoch Godongwana to waive all outstanding e-toll debt.
Godongwana reportedly told a meeting of ANC leaders earlier in September that difficult trade-offs would be required to fund the party’s R73.5 billion wish list.
One of the financial challenges mentioned by the minister was that R4.6 billion would be needed to cover Gauteng’s unpaid e-tolls and he cautioned against forgiving this debt.
However, Outa chief executive Wayne Duvenage contends that the state has no other option but to face reality and waive this debt as uncollectable, after years of motorists defying the ‘irrational and grossly inefficient scheme’.
“The state continues to make this mistake on the e-toll debacle and must surely realise after seven years of failure that raising and clinging to unjustified debt from a defiant public is a lost cause,” he said.
“Since July 2019, cabinet has been promising us a solution to the e-tolls impasse, but the self-imposed deadlines repeatedly pass by. Outa calls on minister Godongwana to help resolve the cabinet’s stalemate and engage with Outa to understand alternative solutions posed.”
Duvenage said that this decision is more urgent than ever, as Sanral’s final contract extension with e-toll collections agency ETC expires on 2 December 2021. Sanral has extended this several times, although this has been legally questionable, he said.