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Nobody knows what’s really going on with e-tolls

There have been mixed messages around e-tolls in recent weeks following the announcement by Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi that the tolling scheme would be shut down by 31 March 2024.

In his State of the Province address on 19 February, Lesufi said that all parties involved in the negotiations have finally reached a collective agreement on how the e-toll debt will be handled, allowing for the system to be switched off and delinked by the end of next month.

However, following Lesufi’s landmark statement, finance minister Enoch Godongwana said that he is unaware of such an agreement and that the Gauteng province has yet to deliver its plans for settling its portion of the debt and how it intends to maintain the affected roads that were serviced by e-toll revenue in the past.

“We have made our own commitment and gave Sanral money last year, so [Gauteng] has to give [treasury] money. Second, the province has to answer the question, who is going to do the maintenance? That is a discussion they are having with the Department of Transport,” said Godongwana in a Jacaranda FM interview on 23 February.

“Unless an agreement is tied down, I can’t make a commitment as to when the gantries can go.”

On the 26th, Mampho Modise, deputy director-general of public finance, told Moneyweb that Gauteng “should and will” collect around R6 billion in e-toll debt from defaulters as part of its responsibility to honour its agreements with the National Roads Agency (Sanral), suggesting that the provincial government is still unsure about how it will settle the roughly R12 billion it owes.

Besides much of this debt already being prescribed, the statement nevertheless goes against an announcement by premier Lesufi in January 2023, where he said that the province will refund compliant motorists who diligently paid their accounts instead of coming after boycotters of the scheme – a statement he has since publicly denounced.

All of these contrasting explanations have, to say the least, sowed confusion among the general populace who never wanted e-tolls and yearn for the system to be switched off for good, said the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).

“Between Sanral, Premier Lesufi, Minister Godongwana, and the Department of Transport, it seems that nobody knows what is really going on when it comes to finalising the e-toll debacle,” said Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage.

“We are left more confused than ever by the latest announcement by Modise. Who should we believe, especially since it’s election year with different politicians making so many different promises?”

Speaking to eNCA, Outa’s Stefanie Fick said, at the very least, motorists with outstanding e-toll accounts legally can not be charged as their debts have already prescribed, and that should Sanral walk back on its 2019 promise to leave defaulters alone, Outa is ready to defend drivers that are served with summonses in court.

The organisation’s wider view is that e-tolls were, from the start, irrational, unreasonable, and “an unnecessary waste of billions of South African taxpayers’ money.”

As things stand, though, it is looking all the more unlikely that e-tolls will truly be turned off on 31 March and that we may have to put up with them for a little while longer.

E-tolls to be used for crime prevention

Earlier this week, transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga reiterated that the relevant entities are working to delink e-tolls by the end of this financial year, but only for billing.

Once they are no longer charging motorists, the gantries will be repurposed for “crime prevention,” said the minister.

While the specific method in which they will be utilised was not divulged, a tender document issued by Sanral in August 2022 indicated that the tolling infrastructure could be used for:

  • Data monetization
  • Weigh in motion enforcement
  • Tracking vehicle and driver’s licence renewals
  • Detecting average speed-over-distance violations.

Before this can happen, however, a number of “very small” issues must still be worked through, noted Chikunga.

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