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E-tolling plan put on hold pending new amendment

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) has proposed an amendment which would give Parliament more say in the determination of toll prices.

Currently, the minister of transport has sole powers to determine toll fees and toll increases.

This week, the council approved a single-worded amendment to the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill, informally known as the e-tolls Bill, which would force the minister to consult Parliament in setting toll prices.

The process of consultation by both houses of Parliament could derail the South African National Roads Agency's (Sanral) plans to start tolling the roads from June.

The amendment came from the ANC.

The ruling party's Raseriti Tau, a member of the NCOP committee processing the Bill, explained that the Bill does not deal with toll fees as it had been put in the public, but empowers Minister of Transport Ben Martins, to make regulations with regards to terms and conditions applicable to the payment of tolls and for the establishment of a system that permits the registration of people liable to pay tolls.

It also strengthens section 27 of the Sanral and National Roads Act to enable Sanral, in cooperation with the province and the municipality in which the proposed is situated to perform socio-economic and traffic impact assessment pertaining to the proposed toll. Sanral is obligated to publish the findings of that assessment.

Proposing changes to the regulations
Tau said the version of the Bill that was passed by the National Assembly stated before the minister makes any regulation, he must submit a draft of the proposed regulation to Parliament for "comment".

The committee on Tuesday changed the word "comment" and replaced it with "consideration".

"We felt that this provision was too weak and not in line with section 102 of the Constitution, which clearly empowers Parliament to consider regulations and not just comment.

"We also felt that this provision undermines our own internal processes that are intended to give effect to section 101 of the Constitution such as the role of the joint committee on delegated legislation," said Tau.

The motivation for the change was that "consideration" would allow a process for Parliament to not only comment but possibly propose changes to the regulations, he said.

It also means that Parliament will have to look at the socio-economic and traffic impact assessments done by province and municipality; the report of the public comments and plans for alternate routes and mitigating against any concerns raised by either a premier of a province, a municipality or the public.

Bill to go back to the National Assembly
The amendment also means that the Bill will have to go back to the National Assembly for further consideration.

He, however, rejected suggestion that the process would delay Sanral's plans to start tolling next month.

"The intention is not to delay or derail but to affirm Parliament's role in writing legislation," he said.

He confirmed that the committee will consider the determination of toll fees. "Those are issues that we will look at … whether the government, as a whole has done its best in applying its mind on how the law will affect our people," he said.

The Democratic Alliance spokesperson on transport, Ian Ollis, applauded the ANC's proposal, saying it will make it more difficult for the minister to change toll prices.

Ollis also pointed out that the ANC has strengthened a proposal he originally made – while the Bill was in the National Assembly. The proposal emphasised that the minister should table a copy of his draft-price increases on toll fees with Parliament before publishing them in the Government Gazette.

Gauteng's June e-tolling date
Last month, Sanral issued a statement suggesting that e-tolling in Gauteng will be implemented in June.

"Travelling on Gauteng's roads when e-tolling has been implemented in two months' time, will cost motorists considerably less than is generally assumed," read the statement issued on April 12.

Spokesperson for the transport department Tiyani Rikhotso said Parliament has delegated the authority to make decisions on regulations to the minister. However, the department can send draft regulations to Parliament for comment.

"Otherwise, we would need an overhaul of the law to change that. It's not a straightforward thing," said Rikhotso.

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