Fuel levy will ‘hit poor the hard­est’

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - TE­BOGO MONAMA

PEO­PLE who use pub­lic trans­port or those who don’t pay in­come tax must “shut up” about e-tolls, says trans­port economist Dr Roelof Botha.

He was mak­ing sub­mis­sions on be­half of the South African Na­tional Roads Agency on the last day of sub­mis­sions to the Gaut­eng e-toll re­view panel.

Yes­ter­day was San­ral’s last chance to con­vince the panel that de­spite the anti-toll out­cry, the sys­tem was the best op­tion.

The panel, sit­ting in Pre­to­ria, was ap­pointed by Gaut­eng Premier David Makhura in July to ex­am­ine the eco­nomic and so­cial im­pact of the Gaut­eng Free­way Im­prove­ment Project and the e-tolling sys­tem set up to fund it.

Botha said poor peo­ple and those who used pub­lic trans­port ben­e­fited from e-tolls be­cause it saved them money and travel time.

He said peo­ple who used pub­lic trans­port should not take part in the e-tolls de­bate be­cause it ben­e­fited them.

“If a pol­icy has pos­i­tive out­comes, why are you op­pos­ing it?” he asked.

“If you are in the bot­tom in­come quota and us­ing pub­lic trans­port, then you should not ac­tu­ally par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate.

“You should ac­tu­ally shut up and not par­tic­i­pate.”

Panel mem­ber John Ngce­bet­sha in­ter­jected and said he did not like Botha’s tone.

“The is­sue is about mak­ing a sub­mis­sion and con­tent, and not who may and may not par­tic­i­pate in the de­bate,” Ngce­bet­sha said.

San­ral chief ex­ec­u­tive Nazir Alli leapt to Botha’s de­fence be­fore Botha could con­tinue with his pre­sen­ta­tion. Alli said the “opin­ions ex­pressed by a pre­sen­ter were no dif­fer­ent from opin­ions ex­pressed by de­trac­tors”, but it ap­peared that the de­trac­tors of e-tolls “seem to get a lot more space” to ex­press their opin­ions.

Dur­ing the break, Botha clar­i­fied his po­si­tion by say­ing he did not mean that poor peo­ple should have no say in the mat­ter.

“When you don’t own a car and use pub­lic trans­port, the e-toll sys­tem is sig­nif­i­cant in time sav­ing, so you should not be op­posed to it.

“If we now use the fuel levy, it will trans­late to the poor pay­ing 35 times more,” Botha said.

Taxis have been ex­empt from pay­ing e-tolls, which were in­tro­duced to Gaut­eng free­ways on De­cem­ber 3 last year.

Another economist, Keith Lock­wood, who also made sub­mis­sions on be­half of San­ral, agreed with Botha that the prov­ince’s poor­est res­i­dents would not face huge fi­nan­cial losses be­cause of the tolling sys­tem.

Lock­wood said about 94 per­cent of the tolling costs would be paid by the top 20 per­cent of earn­ers in the prov­ince.

He said only 50 per­cent of cars used high­ways less than five times a month and nearly 70 per­cent less than 15 times a month.

On sug­ges­tions that the e-toll money be raised through the fuel levy, Lock­wood said that would im­pact more on the poor than the rich.

He said it would lead to an in­crease in taxi and long-dis­tance bus fares.

The panel, led by Pro­fes­sor Muxe Nkondo, will re­port back to Makhura by the end of the month.

The panel has re­ceived sub­mis­sions from the pub­lic, po­lit­i­cal par­ties and NGOs.

PIC­TURE: DU­MISANI SIBEKO

CLAR­I­FIED HIS PO­SI­TION: Dr Roelof Botha

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