Swazi Observer - - BUSINESS -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG - Scrap­ping e-tolls is not on the ta­ble, SANRAL said on Wed­nes­day.

This came af­ter there was con­fu­sion whether the South African Na­tional Roads Agency (SANRAL) would aban­don Gaut­eng's e-toll scheme, af­ter The Cit­i­zen re­ported on Tues­day that the road agency had ac­knowl­edged that the project is a fail­ure.

The pa­per re­ported on Tues­day that SANRAL is con­sid­er­ing throw­ing its weight be­hind a fuel levy, af­ter most Gaut­eng mo­torists still refuse to pay e-tolls.

But SANRAL spokesper­son Vusi Mona told Fin24 fuel levies have al­ways been un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

"It was not re­garded as the best fund­ing model for the Gaut­eng Free­way Im­prove­ment Project (GFIP). Of con­cern is that the fuel levy is a re­gres­sive tax that im­pacts dis­pro­por­tion­ately on the poor. With e-tolls, taxis and buses are ex­empt. With a fuel levy, they are not."

He said im­ple­men­ta­tion of a pro­vin­cial fuel levy would be dif­fi­cult and costly to ad­min­is­ter. It would also not be eq­ui­table, pun­ish­ing mo­torists from other prov­inces who buy fuel in Gaut­eng.

Or­gan­i­sa­tion Un­do­ing Tax Abuse (OUTA) Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Ben Theron said SANRAL is send­ing out mixed sig­nals by run­ning a re­newed cam­paign to col­lect on out­stand­ing e-toll bills, de­spite its com­ments. “Hav­ing con­vinced gov­ern­ment to adopt this poorly re­searched and ir­ra­tional scheme, SANRAL now turns to gov­ern­ment for funds to bail it out of the mess it cre­ated.”

Mona said SANRAL could not make the de­ci­sion to aban­don etolls. "Gov­ern­ment se­lected tolls as the most af­ford­able, eq­ui­table and fair way to fund the GFIP."

He said with­out the toll rev­enue, funds would have to be al­lo­cated from the fis­cus to re­pay the out­stand­ing loan.

Fin24 ear­lier re­ported that most mo­torists in Gaut­eng are still not pay­ing e-tolls, with Sanral dis­clos­ing that only about 30 per cent of in­voices gen­er­ated to driv­ers on Gaut­eng’s tolled roads have been paid over a 24-month pe­riod.

Of the more than 1.8 bil­lion in­voices is­sued in the past 24 months, more than 1.3 bil­lion (more than 71 per cent) were un­paid.

As at the end of March 2016, the amount owed to e-tolls by non-reg­is­tered users came to R7.2bn.

Funds for fu­ture projects dry­ing up Mona said the GFIP was in­tended to be a three-phase project, but its fu­ture is in jeop­ardy. "We do note with con­cern the lack of pay­ment of toll fees. With in­suf­fi­cient fund­ing avail­able to SANRAL, phases two and three are un­likely to be im­ple­mented."

The Cit­i­zen quoted a SANRAL of­fi­cial as say­ing that SANRAL is un­der pres­sure to de­cide how fu­ture road projects could be funded as money dries up. Whether that will be through tolling or through the fi­cus re­mains an open de­bate, the of­fi­cial said.

SANRAL is con­cerned about fund­ing big projects go­ing for­ward, Mona said. "How­ever, as en­gi­neers we are com­mit­ted to plan­ning and de­sign­ing roads for the fu­ture for all roads users. We will look to gov­ern­ment to al­lo­cate funds to en­able the ex­e­cu­tion of th­ese projects."

He said the trans­port min­is­ter, as SANRAL's share­holder, can ap­proach Na­tional Trea­sury if he deems it nec­es­sary. En­gi­neer­ing their own down­fall. Theron said it is in­ter­est­ing that SANRAL feels its fi­nan­cial so­lu­tions lie in the hands of gov­ern­ment. The fact that Trea­sury's cup­board is al­most bare would make SANRAL's job that much more dif­fi­cult, he said. "It was SANRAL’s board that hatched and pro­posed this sup­pos­edly ef­fi­cient e-toll scheme to gov­ern­ment,” Theron said.

SANRAL had ev­ery op­por­tu­nity in 2007 – when the Gaut­eng free­way up­grade plan was be­ing in­tro­duced – to pro­pose that the free­way up­grade bonds be fi­nanced by way of a slight in­crease to its an­nual al­lo­ca­tion from the Na­tional Trea­sury, Theron ex­plained. This could have been sourced from a 9 per cent to 10 per cent in­crease in the fuel levy at the time.

"It would have gen­er­ated the nec­es­sary se­cu­rity to set­tle the bonds, which would then have been al­most set­tled by to­day," he said.

OUTA chair­per­son Wayne Du­ve­nage ques­tioned why Sanral is still run­ning an ex­pen­sive lit­i­ga­tion process to sum­mons mo­torists who fail to pay e-toll bills for what it calls an "ir­ra­tional" scheme.


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