Sunday Times

‘Cushy’ deal for firm linked to e-toll man

’Se­cret ten­der’ to chase tolls worth bil­lions

- STEPHAN HOFSTATTER and MZI­LIKAZI wa AFRIKA in­ves­ti­ga­tions@sun­day­times.co.za

FLASHY Cape Town busi­ness­man and e-toll ex­ec­u­tive Mark Ridg­way has links to the com­pany that clinched a se­cre­tive deal to re­cover more than R14-bil­lion in un­paid e-toll fees from mil­lions of South Africans who use Gaut­eng’s free­ways.

Ridg­way — who has posted pho­tos on Face­book of his high-fly­ing life­style, in­clud­ing a he­li­copter and Spit­fire cap­tioned “my new and old toys” — is also ac­cused of punt­ing his pri­vate busi­ness in­ter­ests while work­ing for a state-con­tracted en­tity.

As chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the Elec­tronic Toll Col­lec­tions com­pany, which is paid about R580-mil­lion a year by state roads agency Sanral to run Gaut­eng’s e-tolls, Ridg­way has launched sev­eral ini­tia­tives to ag­gres­sively pur­sue de­fault­ers.

Ridg­way’s con­tract as COO ex­pires at the end of the month but his com­pa­nies will profit by billing the Eletronic Toll Col­lec­tions com­pany con­sult­ing fees for help­ing Sanral col­lect out­stand­ing e-toll debt.

E-toll tar­iffs went up 6% on Fri­day. Anti-toll ac­tivist group Outa has cal­cu­lated that 91% of about 2.5 mil­lion e-toll road users cur­rently refuse to pay, al­though Sanral dis­putes this.

Ridg­way’s plans to make re­bel­lious mo­torists cough up for us­ing Gaut­eng’s high­way net­work in­clude tak­ing le­gal ac­tion that could re­sult in court judg­ments and black­list­ing of hun­dreds of thou­sands of mo­torists. De­fault­ers could face hav­ing their prop­erty at­tached and be­ing de­nied credit cards, home loans and car fi­nance.

In a deal sure to raise eye­brows in De­cem­ber Elec­tronic Toll Col­lec­tions awarded a con­tract to re­cover e-toll debts worth R14.75-bil­lion to Cape Town-based ITC Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tors, a com­pany Ridg­way has a long his­tory with.

Ridg­way worked for ITC Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tors for 13 years un­der the chair­man­ship of Larry Sive when it traded un­der the name Tran­sunion Re­ceiv­ables Man­age­ment. Sive still owns a large stake in the com­pany. Dur­ing his last six years at the com­pany Ridg­way also served on Sive’s board.

The e-toll debt col­lec­tion deal is shrouded in mys­tery. The con­tract was awarded af­ter a se­cre­tive bid­ding process run by an au­dit firm. It was never ad­ver­tised.

Sanral, Elec­tronic Toll Col­lec­tions and ITC Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tors all refuse to dis­close the cut the debt-col­lec­tion com­pany stands to make from cash re­cov­ered, the fees it is likely to charge or how long the con­tract will run, de­scrib­ing this as “com­mer­cially con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion”.

Sanral said it was “not party to the agree­ments be­tween ETC and their sub­sup­pli­ers or sub­con­trac­tor”.

ITC Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tors is 51% owned by Safika In­vest­ments. The re­main­ing 49% be­longs to an en­tity called Jagfin Trust.

The com­pany re­fused to dis­close the trust’s ben­e­fi­cia­ries, but the Sun­day Times has es­tab­lished it be­longs to Larry Sive and his wife, Denise.

Elec­tronic Toll Col­lec­tions de­clined to ex­plain why it had opted for a closed ten­der. It said a “for­mal pro­cure­ment process was fol­lowed, mul­ti­ple po­ten­tial ser­vice providers iden­ti­fied and the suc­cess­ful ser­vice provider was ITC”.

Ridg­way de­nied that Elec- tronic Toll Col­lec­tions’ award­ing of the deal to a com­pany he used to head rep­re­sented a con­flict of in­ter­est.

“When the ten­der for this col­lec­tion process went out I was re­cused com­pletely,” he said. “I wasn’t in­volved at all.”

Outa CEO Wayne Du­ve­nage ac­cuses Ridg­way of also us­ing his se­nior po­si­tion at a state­con­tracted com­pany to line up fu­ture busi­ness for him­self by threat­en­ing mo­torists with le­gal ac­tion and hav­ing their cars listed as en­cum­bered with debt if they do not pay their out­stand­ing tolls.

Du­ve­nage pointed out that Ridg­way has a com­pany called Mark Eden Man­age­ment and started up a sep­a­rate com­pany, Mark Eden Ve­hi­cle Data Ser­vices, while work­ing for Elec­tronic Toll Col­lec­tions.

“For two years Ridg­way was a rel­a­tively quiet and un­known COO of ETC, but in about Novem­ber last year he started to be­come a vo­cal spokesper­son, mak­ing a lot of noise about e-toll debt.”

This in­cluded “a rant about ve­hi­cles be­ing listed, when there is no law that pro­hibits the sale of a used car with e-toll debt,” said Du­ve­nage.

“It’s very sus­pi­cious and smacks of con­flict of in­ter­est and punt­ing is­sues that cre­ate a false pub­lic fear, whilst seem­ingly turn­ing this into a pri­vate mon­ey­mak­ing ini­tia­tive.”

Ridg­way de­nied the ve­hi­cle data ser­vices com­pany was set up to profit from the ve­hi­cle black­list­ing he was threat­en­ing mo­torists with.

“That com­pany was set up be­cause I am a spe­cial­ist in col­lec­tions,” he said. “It’s an en­tity that I use in or­der to bill out my fees.”

Even though the com­pany is called Mark Eden Ve­hi­cle Data Ser­vices, it had “noth­ing to do with” ve­hi­cle list­ing “at this stage”, he said.

The name was “ab­so­lutely just some­thing plucked out of the air”.

 ??  ?? CRE­AT­ING FEAR: Toll col­lec­tions com­pany boss Mark Ridg­way loves flashy cars
CRE­AT­ING FEAR: Toll col­lec­tions com­pany boss Mark Ridg­way loves flashy cars

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