A debate on the e-Tolls Bill in Parliament has been postponed until further notice after ANC members proposed an amendment that would oblige Transport Minister Ben Martins to seek Parliamentary approval in setting toll prices.
The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) had been scheduled to approve the proposed Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill, but it will be referred back to the select committee on public services for further consideration.
ANC sources who did not want to be named said a number of meetings have been held this week between Martins and ANC members who sit on the committee as well as between the transport department's legal advisors and ANC whips in the NCOP.
"The minister sent legal advisors to the ANC caucus, saying that the amendment [that gives Parliament more say in determining toll prices] has far-reaching implications," said one source.
The source also said Martins and his advisors want the amended section deleted from the Bill.
Respecting the processes
"The concern is that we [the NCOP] might deal with the issue of pricing and this will also lead to delays in implementing e-tolling," said another source.
Spokesperson for the transport department Tiyani Rikhotso said, as an ANC MP, Martins sits in meetings of the caucus and ANC study group that meets every week. He denied the allegation that the department's legal advisors met with ANC members of the committee. He said Martins was aware of and respected the processes of Parliament and therefore would always abide by the outcome of the deliberations of the NCOP, but could not comment on ongoing discussions at the NCOP.
MPs were sent SMSes and emails on Tuesday afternoon informing them of the postponement of the debate and vote until "further notice". No reason was provided.
Explaining the proposed amendment, Raseriti Tau – a member of the committee processing the Bill – said it does not deal with the actual payment of tolls. These are set in the regulations, which the minister drafts after the Bill has been passed.
The Bill also stipulates that the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral), in co-operation with the province and the municipality in which the proposed toll roads are situated, must perform socioeconomic and traffic impact assessments pertaining to the proposed toll. Sanral is obligated to publish the findings of the assessments.
Tau said the version of the Bill passed by the National Assembly stated that before the transport minister makes any regulation he must submit a draft of the proposed regulation to Parliament for "comment". The committee replaced the word "comment" 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 MPs not only to comment but possibly also to propose changes to the regulations, he said.
It also meant that MPs would have to examine the socioeconomic and traffic impact assessments done by the province and the municipality, as well as the report of the public comments and plans for alternate routes and mitigating factors against concerns raised by a premier, a municipality or the public. But the amendment also means the Bill will have to go back to the National Assembly for further consideration.
Tau rejected suggestions 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 would 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.