E-toll interdict puts burden of proof on transport minister

The court case over the controversial e-tolling system will show Gauteng motorists how hard government worked to find alternatives to e-tolling.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) has argued that the system should be scrapped and on Saturday won a court interdict to prevent the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) from implementing e-tolling until a court has reviewed the matter.

Outa chairperson Wayne Duvenage said the case had exposed government’s inefficiencies and weak decision-making.

“We want to see all the papers, all the documentation that prove that you considered your actions in the best interest of citizens of this country… show us the workings and the various funding mechanisms that you considered,” said Duvenage.

The alliances legal representative Pieter Conradie said its lawyers were waiting to receive the records from the state. “We’re waiting for all the documents that the transport minister considered when he decided to approve this scheme,” he said.

Because of the interdict, e-tolling may not begin until the court case has been resolved. Conradie said that because of this, Sanral has “every reason to comply” with its request. “The longer they take to give it to us, the more damage they will suffer,” he said.

Conradie said that although Outa had asked for the documents when it filed legal papers at the end of March, it has not yet received them.

The entire process, from getting the records, considering them, filing supplementing affidavits and then getting a court date, could take two to three months.

But if Outa was not satisfied that it had received the entire record, it could bring an application to compel Sanral to make more documents available.

“That two or three months might become four or five months,” said Conradie. Only then would the actual review be argued, and the case could run on for a year or more.

Credit rating scare tactics
The treasury, which joined the proceedings early last week, has argued that failing to implement the tolls could affect Sanral’s credit rating and also jeopardise governments ability to raise sovereign debt.

This argument suffered somewhat when the ANC and Cosatu on Thursday agreed to ask government to delay the implementation, and the state complied.

The DA’s Gauteng spokesperson, Jack Bloom, said he believed the treasury’s argument concerning the credit ratings was little more than a “scare tactic”. “They were trying to paint a picture that we absolutely have to go ahead,” he said.

Efficient Group economist Dawie Roodt also said it was unlikely that the e-tolling issue would affect the country’s credit rating. This, he said, was based much more on factors such as whether the country could afford to pay its debt, whether it could afford to take on more debt, and whether the political environment was a stable one.

Roodt said that in the grand scheme of things, the R20-billion needed by Sanral to repay the cost of the GFIP was very little, especially when considering that the total state expenditure is in excess of R1-trillion each year.

Economist Mike Schüssler agreed, saying that while the interdict would affect Sanral, it wouldn’t have much of a detrimental effect on the government, which could compensate through any number of methods, for example using its reserves, lowering the wage bill or curbing spending.

Alternative funding
Schüssler said he believed it was all over for e-tolling. The chances of e-tolls being part of our future is probably about 20%, he said.

“The real big question now is how do we pay for [roads] alternatively, how do we pay for it in the future, and you can build roads a lot cheaper without putting gantries on all the time?” he said.

Schüssler said there were many ways to finance roads, and that a road tax was just one option. Cutting government spending, particularly on civil servants salaries which were inflated, and saving money from corruption and wastage would also help.

He pointed out that while South Africa is among the top ten countries in the world when it comes to the percentage of GDP spent on civil servants’ salaries, it is in the bottom half of countries when it came to spending on infrastructure.

“Government is spending less than 6% on infrastructure as a percentage of GDP and 12.5% on salaries,” he said.

Duvenage said that the state should consider fuel levies and other funding mechanisms.

Duvenage said that by Outa’s calculations, a 7c or 8c levy would be all that’s needed to raise the fund needed to pay off the GFIP and that it would be much easier to collect these funds upstream.

“Pravin Gordhan just pushed the fuel levy up by 20c a litre in the February budget and nobody even noticed,” he said. “Are the people going to revolt for seven or eight cents? That will raise the R32-billion needed to pay off the GFIP over 20 years. Tolling was going to raise the R102-billion for Sanral over the same period. That starts to raise the question, where is all the other money going?”

Gordhan himself has rejected this idea in the past, saying this would add about R1 to the price of fuel.

But the treasury has said little since the interdict took effect. Treasury spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane told the M&G: “We’re still studying the judgment and we will be issuing a full statement at some point in the week.

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