The contentious e-tolls are here to stay, with critics saying the message on the future of the scheme was clear from the positions of Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula last week and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni yesterday.
“We need to build a culture of payment, as government services can only be sustainable if all of us that can pay for services, do so,” Mboweni said in his medium-term budget policy statement yesterday.
It was, however, what the finance minister told journalists ahead of his speech that gave a strong indication that the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project was going nowhere.
Mboweni, who is tasked by President Cyril Ramaphosa – together with Mbalula and Gauteng Premier David Makhura – to come up with a solution to the e-tolls impasse, was quoted as saying: “People must appreciate the service provided and just like they go to Pick n Pay to buy bread, they will pay for the use of this service.”
Mbalula, who has praised the user pays principle and urged motorists to pay e-tolls, is expected to make an announcement on the future of e-tolls today, after the initial August deadline was postponed.
The finance minister said Cabinet had considered several options to resolve the impasse over the e-tolls and that the “reconfigured approach” to the scheme and its financing would be determined by himself and Mbalula after consultation with Makhura and his executive.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), e-tolls’ fiercest critics, said the writing was on the wall that government would act with “complete ignorance and arrogance” to hang on to a scheme that has clearly failed and had been scrapped abroad.
Wayne Duvenage, the nonprofit organisation’s civil rights organisation’s head, said e-tolls would remain in physical structures only because people have demonstrated that they will never pay.
“The money to finance the scheme is not coming. The compliance rate is 20%,” he said.
“The scheme has failed and no matter what they say, it is only in their minds, but not reality.
“I don’t know whether it is ignorance or arrogance because other governments have pulled the plug on e-tolls because of negative public sentiment. In this country we can’t see that.”
Duvenage said should Mbalula announce the retention of e-tolls today, they expected a multifaceted government marketing plan to entice defaulters into the scheme, but he said this would be a grave mistake.
“This is especially so in light of the fact that civil society and business organisations have denounced the scheme,” he said. “Without widespread public support, it has failed and will continue to do so.”
The Democratic Alliance has said the fact that the South African National Roads Agency only managed to collect R687.7 million in e-tolls for the 2018/19 financial year, compared to R1.87 billion the previous year, showed the scheme had failed.
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