E-toll future still up in the air

The sun sets over an e-toll gantry on the N1 highway near Randburg, 16 September 2014. Picture: Michel Bega

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu gave the assurance in March 2020 that e-tolls would be discussed by cabinet, following a promise made in December 2019 that a decision on the future of e-tolls would be taken in the first cabinet meeting in 2020.

The government is currently deliberating the future of e-tolls on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

These deliberations are taking place amid confusion and uncertainty about the validity of claims that motorists who do not pay their e-toll accounts will be fined R1 000 for each offence in terms of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (Aarto) Amendment Act.

Ayanda-Allie Paine, spokesperson for Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, said on Thursday she did not want to comment on a Democratic Alliance (DA) statement about e-tolls.

“It [e-tolls] is a matter that is before cabinet and there are deliberations about it as we speak. So nothing is concrete, nothing is settled on, everybody is holding on until we hear from cabinet. I think that is all that we will like to say because anything that we add on to that will make it seem as if things have been concluded and things are ready to be represented and that is not the case. We are waiting for cabinet to give direction on the e-tolls,” she said.

Paine added there is “no indication at the moment” when cabinet will make an announcement about the future of e-tolls.

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu gave the assurance in March 2020 that e-tolls would be discussed by cabinet, following a promise made in December 2019 that a decision on the future of e-tolls would be taken in the first cabinet meeting in 2020.

Cabinet has already met several times this year.

Mthembu did not comment at the time on why cabinet had not taken a decision yet.

The SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) in September reissued the tender for the continued management of e-tolls, which it cancelled in March, despite the continuing uncertainty that exists over the future of e-tolls on the GFIP and e-toll compliance rates declining further to below 19%.

DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for roads and transport Fred Nel this week called on President Cyril Ramaphosa to decide on the future of e-tolls as a matter of urgency before the Aarto Amendment Act takes effect in July 2021.

The Aarto Bill was signed into law in August 2019. Although a commencement date for the Act has not been officially promulgated, it was intended to come into effect nationally by mid-2020, but its implementation was delayed by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Concerns of R500 fines last year

Nel said the DA last year raised concerns that the (owners of) operator class motor vehicles, who do not pay e-tolls will be fined R500 and stand to lose one demerit point for every fine that is not paid.

He said this has subsequently been changed, and while motorists will not receive demerit points, a fine will still be incurred, which is now double at R1 000 for failing to pay e-tolls.

Nel added that a fine can be issued for disobeying a traffic sign each time a motorist passes an e-toll gantry and fails to pay their e-tolls.

“The Act is just another way to force motorists to pay for e-tolls. What is clear is that residents are not prepared to pay for e-tolls.

“We cannot have a situation where motorists are fined for something which they were not consulted on in the first place,” he said.

Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage said Outa is going to court to halt and review the implementation of Aarto.

Advocate Stefanie Fick, head of the accountability division at Outa, said Outa’s application attacks the constitutionality of the Aarto Act and the separation of powers between national and local government.

Fick said the application was lodged in July and is being opposed by the Department of Transport and Road Traffic Infringement Agency.

She said the application is only likely to be heard next year.

Fick said e-tolls are not mentioned in Outa’s constitutional challenge of the Aarto Act because e-tolls are not mentioned in this Act but rather in the regulations to the Act.

She said the regulations to the Aarto Amendment Act are now open for comment and Outa will be going through them with a fine-tooth comb.

Fick stressed that these regulations will not come into effect if the Act does not come into effect.

She added that there may be an opportunity to attack the regulations as they relate to e-tolls and other issues in the future.

This article first appeared on Moneyweb and was republished with permission.

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