Opponents vow to continue fight against e-toll ‘Ponzi scheme’

Opponents vow to continue fight against e-toll ‘Ponzi scheme’

Wayne Duvenage of Outa, in his Randburg office, speaks to The Citizen about the NGO’s wider, revamped role. Pictures: Tracy Lee Stark

Sanral has sent out 6 000 summonses to defaulters but the campaign of defiance shows no sign of slowing.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), formerly the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, says the e-toll fight isn’t over.

Although it is now tackling a wide range of tax abuse issues, Outa says it will take on all e-toll cases should Sanral prosecute non-compliant road users.

Outa chairperson Wayne Duvenage said: “Sanral is still trying to collect their outstanding revenue, now estimated at over R11 billion.

“Recent SMSes from them indicate they are still reminding people that they owe money. In the background, we have the litigation process unfolding.

“It’s complicated – it’s a big case. There are over 6 000 summonses sent out by Sanral, according to them.

“We have about 160 of our supporters caught up in that and we are handling every one of their cases.

“This high spend on Sanral’s legal costs is out there.

“And Outa is defending the public against the unlawfulness of the scheme.”

Their fight is twofold, he explains.

“The one is that which we have been fighting all along and went to court about initially – the constitutionality of e-tolls.

“That revolves around the lack of public consultation, if the minister [of transport] applied his mind at the time, the rationality and so forth.

“It comes back now as a result of Sanral’s summonses.”

Then he cited the technicalities, such as: are people getting their bills and are they correct?

“We see no photographs of cars in a picture on their bills.”

The big question is: Four years into the scheme – has it failed? That the gantries are still in place doesn’t mean it’s working, he says.

Sanral needs to collect and pay the bonds raised for the scheme, but that isn’t happening, Duvenage said.

“It’s only a couple of car rental companies that are paying because they don’t want to cross swords with government.

“If I were in the transport minister’s and Sanral’s shoes, I would ask: ‘What would we have to do? There must be another way … how do we work with civil society and not against them?’”

Outa says it’s willing to work with the authorities to find a solution, which it sees as using monies from the fuel levy to maintain the road network, instead of e-tolls.

“We are not saying ring-fence the fuel levy. What we are saying is that what Treasury could have done is to increase the fuel levy by 9 cents in 2007.

“There would have been zero administration costs.

“Had they done that, the bonds that they paid for these roads would be paid off.”

JUSTICE PROJECT SA

A user-pays system has to have 100% buy-in, but this is not the case with the e-toll system implemented by Sanral, Justice Project SA chairperson Howard Dembovsky says.

“We are getting close to four years and, let’s be very frank … they have failed and in an absolutely dismal fashion.

“The so-called user-pays principle has fallen flat on its face. The reason is that people were outraged at the idea of e-tolls.

“They were outraged more by the idea of their urban routes to and from work and family being tolled,” he said.

“That they have kept it alive for so long can only be attributed to the Ponzi scheme that is the Sanral Act. It’s a legalised Ponzi scheme, where they hold bond auctions in order to sub off investment in Sanral and they hold a new bond auction to pay investors who bought the bond in the first place.

“That is a true dictionary and textbook definition of a Ponzi scheme.”

If it carried on like this, Sanral would have no choice but to scrap its “irrational decision” and look at practical ways to build and maintain roads, he added.

“Threatening people with litigation is not the way to get them to buy in. Eventually, a rational person will say ‘we have given it a try, let’s scrap it’. But are we dealing with rational people? It’s blatantly obvious this project involved some connivery in so far as it cost us significantly more than it should have.”

COSATU

These roads were built or improved on the eve of the 2010 Fifa World Cup in SA and it was said to be part of the 2010 legacy, Cosatu Gauteng provincial secretary Dumisani Dakile says.

When the e-toll plan emerged, he said, “we met the premier, who at that time was Nomvula Mokonyane, who did not have an idea of what was really happening with this.

“We approached the MEC for roads and development, who was also in the dark about it.

“The ANC itself was not even aware. That is when we set up the meeting with Sanral.

“The CEO of Sanral was very arrogant in that meeting. All of us were damn angry.”

After that, Cosatu established its campaign against the e-toll system which aimed to educate the public about it, he said. The trade union federation took up the fight because it understood the socioeconomic repercussions of e-tolls for many people, Dakile added.

“We think the ANC and government, including Sanral, has seen that this is not working.

“We engage in the processes and say ‘what can we put in place as an alternative to this?’ We think we are making progress in that regard. Look at the level of defiance.” – news@citizen.co.za




today in print