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@sundaytime­

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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