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South Africans may still have to pay their e-toll debts

South African motorists may still have to pay off their existing e-toll bills, despite previous reports suggesting otherwise.

At the beginning of the year, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi announced in an interview on 702 that Gauteng’s e-toll debt would be dismissed and compliant citizens refunded – citing the decision as one of the key reasons for the delay in the e-toll shutdown.

However, an NGO is now claiming that the e-toll debt cannot be scrapped as it would be unlawful and unjust to the citizens who did pay their toll fees, leaving non-payers with red accounts.

Refunds are not legally possible

The decision to write off the e-toll project’s outstanding debt was recently brought into question by the Inclusive Society Institute (ISI), which claims that the move is not equitable to those who have been diligently paying their fees since the programme’s launch in 2013, writes BusinessTech.

The institute sent a letter addressed to the premier expressing its concerns as to how the principle of equality and fairness would be upheld by dismissing the debts of those who infringed upon the law without providing equitable relief to law-abiding citizens.

While it was initially assumed that the various stakeholders would work out a mutually beneficial solution for payers and non-payers, ISI’s new legal opinion suggests that the question of excusing motorists’ debt is moot.

“The legal opinion states that the ‘South African constitutional law dictates that the South African National Roads Agency Limited does not have the power to retrospectively excuse the nonpayment of e-toll fees once incurred’,” it said.

“The proposed course of action aimed at writing off the outstanding e-toll debt is unlawful. This means that road users that have accumulated e-toll debt have no option other than to settle such debt to Sanral.”

While Gauteng’s road users may still have to pay their existing debts, the process should not impede the process of removing e-tolls from Gauteng, said the ISI.

The ISI did acknowledge the province’s proposal to refund paying motorists, but said that it was not legally possible.

Kept in the dark

The situation surrounding the e-toll debacle is frustratingly unclear, as the province has been slow to provide updates on the matter.

The current tolling system was supposed to be scrapped on 31 December 2022 but was delayed into the new year, and the gantries are still charging motorists who pass through them every day, as pointed out by the Organization Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA).

Furthermore, it is still unclear how the current tolling scheme will be replaced, with various reports suggesting that the gantries could be converted into average-speed cameras or crime-monitoring technology.

The province is also still in negotiations with the national government over the outstanding debt, as the latest proposals suggested that Gauteng would take responsibility for 30% of the existing sum.

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