E-tolls: we are being conned!
We are being conned! That’s according to two leading organisations, which point out that the recently released gazetted tariffs are no different to those published and subsequently withdrawn, earlier this year! In fact, these organisations believes that it’s all a case of smoke and mirrors – with the latest tariffs amounting to little more than window dressing and rubber-stamping.
The first organisation is the vociferous Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA), which tells FOCUS that it is “once again astounded at the government’s arrogance over the e-tolling debacle”. The second outraged organisation is the Justice Project South Africa (JPSA).
Their rants follow the recent announcements made by Sanral on October 25.
“Despite the perception government would like to create, the recently released gazetted tariffs are no different to those published and subsequently withdrawn, earlier this year,” says national chairman of the JPSA, Howard Dembovsky.
The JPSA’s first gripe is the claim regarding supposed lowered tariffs. Dembovsky explains how the comparison between the 2011 tariff of 66c/km and the supposed updated tariff and “discounted” rate of 30c/km is misleading. “It is in fact 58c/km for light motor vehicles and has not changed at all since finance minister, Pravin Gordhan announced his budget speech in February,” he notes.
The judicial review of e-tolling is still set for November 26 and – as much as OUTA chairperson, Wayne Duvenage says nobody can predict the outcome – Dembovsky feels strongly about the possibility that Cabinet is hiding something.
This is not the first time government has decided to withhold e-toll information from certain parties and the public. OUTA and the Congress of South African Trade Unions have been specifically excluded from viewing the contract/s between Sanral and the Electronic Toll Collection. “In other words, the government has only consulted those parties who support its case and we can only describe such behaviour as “rubber-stamping,” says Duvenage.
It is not only OUTA who have been left in the dark. “Given the extent of discussions between various parties during the Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) led process, one would expect that the basis of their e-toll recommendation to Cabinet would have been made public,” says Duvenage. “Instead, the public is merely told they will proceed with e-tolling and government will review tariffs at the end of next month.”
Duvenage additionally explains how government has also been selective about its claimed support for the user pay principle. “While many agree with the theory, most reject it in the application of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP). It imposes caps on high volume users and exempts others. It is a contradictory principle and has not been applied consistently by government.”
OUTA has continuously reiterated that it is willing to pay for GFIP and other national road projects. The national fuel levy is one source of funding and can be used to fund prioritised national road projects. The various e-toll economic reports commissioned by Sanral itself, promote the fuel levy as the most cost efficient method of funding infrastructure projects well ahead of e-tolling which comes with massive administrative and cost burdens.
Ben Martins, the Minister of Transport, has lashed back at this saying an increase in fuel levy will add to inflation and will have an impact on those who do not use GFIP. OUTA’s response to this is that the national implementation of e-tolling, with its undermined administrative and enforcement costs, will have a greater impact on inflation. “The Minister conveniently showed disregard for the fact that Gauteng contributes to the majority of the national fuel levy, which is redistributed to the various provinces via the Division of Revenue Act,” notes Duvenage.