Gauteng toll project tenders legit, says Sanral

The tender process for the Gauteng toll project is above board, chief executive of the South African National Roads Agency, Nazir Alli, said on Wednesday.

“We have had a clean bill of health from the auditor general [AG] ... ever since I can recall and you can rest assured this particular project is well checked and if there was anything untoward you can rest assured, I probably would have been hauled up in front of some disciplinary hearing already,” he said at a panel discussion hosted by the Johannesburg Press Club in Emmarentia.

“... [T]his was also further confirmed in the recent audits which were done by the two companies which were appointed, one by the AG’s office and the other by the province.
This is confirmed.

“First of all, that we are not making any kind of profit, or they couldn’t find anything in our models which we were hiding away as well.”

Alli thanked Sanral’s critics—“all of the people who have been making a noise”—as the organisation had emerged from scrutiny with a “clean bill of health”.

“That’s the other contradiction in our country. As soon as something goes wrong, we turn around and we run to the AG and, hey, we get the AG to check the thing and the results comes out. We have come out with a clean bill of health without me having to rely on anyone of the insurance companies to pay for my medical health,” he joked.

The Gauteng Open Road Tolling (ORT) project was marred in controversy since the toll fees were announced late last year. In recent months, Sanral came under fire for reportedly failing to reveal the total cost of the project and then over the awarding of the R4-billion tender to a mainly foreign-owned consortium to collect tolls.

The announcement of the tariffs sent a shock-wave through the province with fears that the tolls, coupled with rising food and fuel costs, would hit the poor hardest. Cosatu and the Federation of Unions of South Africa, have threatened to go on strike if other arrangements to finance the project were not made.

The outcry prompted Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele and Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane to suspend the implementation of the toll fees and have a task team probe alternatives to the high tariffs.

‘This monster called e-tolling’
The task team returned earlier this month with a proposal for users of light motor vehicles paying R0.40/km instead of R0.49/km, minibus taxi drivers R0.11/km instead of R0.16 and bikers R0.24 instead of R0.30/km. The initial tariff announced was R0.66/km for vehicles without an e-tag account.

Alli said it remained up to Ndebele to accept or reject the costing proposal.

He said it was important that motorists were aware of the benefits of the tolls system.

“But the problem is as individuals, we don’t take into account the vehicle operating costs. What do I do? I get up in the mornings, when we not on strike, I go, I fill up petrol, I drive. I check my oil and tyres ... but you don’t always turnaround and take into account what the vehicle operating costs are.

“Or how many of us actually value our time?

“So our outlook has always been, folks, look at the benefits, there is two sides to the equation ... don’t just look at one side as far as the equation is concerned and you would probably find that if you are honest, the benefits accrued to the road user always outweigh the charges which have been made.”

South African Transport and Allied Workers Union general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu said workers remained worried and he repeated Cosatu’s call for an integrated public transport system.

“We are quite worried ... in particular with this monster called e-tolling.

“This animal with so many tails, we believe will have a depleting impact of our pockets,” he said.

Alli said he did not believe transport was the solution to “our problems at all”.

He said while a well-oiled, integrated transport system may “make life easier”, it would not solve the problems created by the way communities were dispersed across the province, mostly far from their places of work.

University of Johannesburg transport and supply chain management lecturer, Dr Vaughn Mostert, said South Africa was in for serious problems if it did not upgrade its public transport system and reduce the number of cars on the road.

He charged that the government was over-spending on projects such as Gautrain, tolls and was failing at upgrading and improving the transport system the country already had in place.

Ten times more people from suburban areas needed to use public transport instead of their own cars. Mostert urged government to stop freeway expansion projects and instead, invest in improving existing public transport infrastructure. He said a single transport authority was needed to do this.—Sapa

Natasha Marrian

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