Government is not being honest about e-tolls: Outa

Civil society group Outa has raised questions around Gauteng’s controversial e-toll scheme and the government’s decision to go back to the drawing board to discuss funding for the project.

This follows a written parliamentary Q&A from Transport minister Fikile Mbalula this week, in which he indicated that there was no plan to scrap the scheme in the immediate future.

Outa said that a more likely reason for the delay is that the government benefits from the small number of motorists who continue to pay e-tolls.

“We believe the continued operation of the Gauteng e-tolls, which only around 15% of motorists are contributing toward, has little to do with the search for a new funding mechanism, but more to do with where some of the current R50 million or so each month is actually going,” said Wayne Duvenage, Outa’s chief executive.

Duvenage said that there are ‘very few options to consider’ regarding the future of e-tolls.

“The only alternative to e-tolls is for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Plan (GFIP) bonds to be financed via National Treasury,” he said.

“To date, Treasury has already allocated Sanral R10.8 billion for GFIP, which is on top of another annual grant of R70 billion for the same period for non-tolled roads.”

Duvenage noted that Saral itself has already written off R23.6 billion of the unpaid e-toll bills, of which R17.3 billion was revenue not recognised and R6.3 billion was impaired as uncollectable.

Follow the money 

Duvenage said that questions need to be asked around why Sanral continues to operate the defunct scheme when only a handful continue to pay.

He said that this has never been an efficient or enforceable user-pays scheme, which is the mantra that people in government cling to when responding to the failed project.

“We believe that corruption, or the allocation of funds to areas where they should not be going, probably has something to do with the state’s reluctance to pull the plug on the scheme.”

Duvenage said that this was based on the following observations:

  • The five-year e-toll collection contract ended three years ago and was followed by extensions until December 2021, and no further extensions are possible. Thus there is no contractual obligation or penalties to keep the contract alive.
  • Approximately R50 million to R55 million is collected by the Electronic Toll Collection company (ETC) each month, and the questions must be asked – like how much of this is being allocated to cover the costs of the collection process, and who are the companies that are supplying “services” to ETC?
  • There are unanswered questions from Sanral and the ETC regarding the allocation of R10 million to a so-called “BEE Facilitation service provider – PRO-ASH”. Outa believes this was a corrupt transaction, the cost of which was passed on to motorists.
  • Allegations over Austrian-based Kapsch TrafficCom (the owners of the local ETC operation), which was implicated in a dubious and possibly corrupt transaction in Zambia, to the value of US$5.5 million, which was channelled through Kapsch’s South African accounts. Individuals were prosecuted in Zambia regarding this issue.
  • The GFIP project at R17.9 billion cost well over twice the price it should have been, providing a clear indication that SANRAL either deliberately sanctioned the overpayments or allowed gross maladministration and undue profiteering from the project by local contractor companies.

“With too many questions and a lack of transparency over the e-toll debacle, along with the state’s reluctance to introduce a commission of inquiry or a thorough independent investigation into the scheme, Outa believes there is no rational explanation for the continued collection of e-tolls and, as such, there must be another sinister or possible corrupt motivating force behind its continued operation.”

Read: No end to e-tolls in sight as Mbalula says to expect more delays.

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Government is not being honest about e-tolls: Outa