The SA National Road Agency (Sanral) is evaluating tenders it received for the continued management of e-tolls after its existing contract with Electronic Tolling Collections (ETC) expires next month, suggesting the government plans to continue with the controversial system.
However, Ayanda Allie Paine, a spokesperson for Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, stressed on Monday that everything continues as normal until Cabinet’s final announcement on e-tolls.
Paine said this also means that Sanral will be remiss to not issue any tender or advertise anything in line with its processes.
“The law must take its course and we must continue as normal up until that date and, if it is scrapped, then deal with it from that point going back – but if not, then we do continue,” she said.
Mbalula said at a media briefing on October 31 that a decision on e-tolls would be taken by Cabinet within the next two weeks (that was meant to be by November 14, last Thursday).
Paine said on Monday that the report on e-tolls had been sent through for Cabinet processes and that it would decide when it would be up for discussion and when that decision would be made.
“At the moment the process is out of the transport department’s hands and is now subject [to] formal processes at Cabinet,” she said.
Two weeks became three
Paine said Mbalula did previously appear before Cabinet, which required the task team to do a bit more work and extended the time period by two weeks, which became three weeks because the investment summit delayed the Cabinet meeting by a week.
She said Cabinet did not include e-tolls in its discussions at last week’s meeting, but “my understanding is that it will be included at some point before the end of the year”.
Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona confirmed that the current contract awarded to ETC, which is owned by Austria-based firm Kapsch, has not been extended again and that Sanral issued a tender on August 19.
The tender as advertised is for the operations and maintenance of an open road tolling system in Gauteng, a national transaction clearing house, and a violations processing centre.
ETC’s contract was extended last year for a further year until December 2.
Mona said Sanral was in the tender evaluation phase in accordance with the tender programme, according to which a new contractor must be appointed to commence work by December 3.
He said the contract would be for a period of 72 months, with an option to extend for another 24 months.
“Provision has been made for a handover period in the tender programme to ensure that there is no interruption of e-toll services,” he said.
Most staff will be protected
Commenting on what would happen to ETC employees if another company were awarded the contract, Mona said the bulk of the ETC staff was protected in terms of Section 197 of the Labour Relations Act.
Wayne Duvenage, CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), was interested to know how many companies tendered.
“We are very intrigued by who wanted to tender for a failed scheme. We can’t see anyone tendering apart from ETC.”
Duvenage said Outa would also be interested in what the tender was for, the amounts that were tendered, and by whom.
“Hopefully Sanral is a lot more transparent this time around with regard to all the tender processes and information and the contract, because it was all subject to such secrecy last time,” he said.
Mbalula stressed in October that the task team President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed to report to him on the options available for e-tolls was not working on a scheme to implement e-tolls in terms of the current scheme, but on a reconfigured approach that could entail non-payment.
He said more than seven proposals on the e-toll scheme were being considered.
The first and most popular option involved the cancellation of the e-toll scheme and the withdrawal of declaration for Gauteng Freeway Improvement Programme (GFIP) phase one road work, he said.
Mbalula said this option involved government taking full responsibility for the debt-servicing obligation of the scheme but questioned where government would find the money for it.
The other options are:
- A partial shadow toll, a scheme where government’s subsidy contribution is less than 100%;
- Selling the GFIP to a private concessionaire;
- The introduction of a public transport fund that will prioritise public transport;
- A hybrid funding model comprising a combination of taxes, such as a fuel levy and licences, to subsidise toll fees;
- A further dispensation and physical toll plaza installations; and
- To implement the e-toll scheme as it was intended.
Mbalula said the total unpaid toll fees will peak at R67 billion, and will require an annual allocation of R2 billion from government to service the 30-year repayment period for the outstanding debt, after government had also written off all outstanding toll debts.
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