I have to concede that whoever came up with the idea of the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) and the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) must have had a brilliant mind. Of course, back in the old days, the wad of income tax we paid automatically included an allocation to build and maintain roads, enhance road safety, and so on…
South Africans are still heavily taxed, but the Department of Transport (DoT) has – by way of two unbelievably sneaky pieces of legislation (the SANRAL Act and the RTMC Act) – shifted its biggest cost centres to the private sector. SANRAL and the RTMC, both wholly-owned by the state, now administer national roads and traffic safety respectively. And trust me, they charge for it. The problem is that they are charging for a service we already fund in taxes.
For instance, on top of your annual vehicle registration fee, you now pay a R36 e-Natis “transaction fee” (six times higher than is needed, incidentally) which goes towards the upkeep of that ingenious system. However, Government still hasn’t managed to transfer the money (and control of e-Natis) to the RTMC. And when the RTMC does get its hands on it, what then? The RTMC has been virtually invisible on the road safety front since its formation and hasn’t released road safety statistics for the last two years. Conversely, despite its bureaucratic sluggishness, the DoT of old – on taxpayers’ money which we have not stopped paying just because we now pay an e-Natis transaction fee – ran many effective projects and regularly released decent statistics. So we’re effectively paying twice for something we don’t actually get, if you see what I mean.
But it’s SANRAL that’s the arch con-job of the lot. Roads used to be funded by central government from income tax and fuel tax. We still pay those taxes, of course. But now, every new national road built or existing national road repaired will be a toll road. So, once again, we’ll be paying twice for the same thing. The whole lark makes a mockery of private sector respectability and is nothing more than a clever ruse for sucking the motorist’s pockets dry while pretending not to raise taxes.
And the chief executive officers (CEOs) of these two intrepid bodies – Nazir Alli and Ranthoko Rakgoale – don’t have to listen to a thing we say. We can whine all we like, but the fact is that Alli can plonk down tollgates and charge what tolls he wants on any national road, and Rakgoale can secure municipal revenue streams by turning a blind eye while the split between speeding prosecution and prosecution of other traffic offences is 99:1%. And the reason they can do this is because they are the heads of legalised monopolies backed by the weight of legislation that no longer regards roads and road safety as a public service, but as a profit-making cash cow.
It’s the whole nightmarish Telkom scenario all over again: privatise the running of critical infrastructure and leech money off it while you can. And, just as Telkom kept us stuck firmly in the era of Beltel while telecoms flourished in the rest of the world, road conditions and safety levels in South Africa are currently the worst they’ve been in 30 years; despite costing the road user more than ever before.
Rob Handfield-Jones has spent 20 years indulging his three passions: vehicles, road safety and writing. He heads up driving.co.za, a company which offers training in economical and safe driving.