Opinionista Ian Ollis 29 April 2014

It’s a money game: E-tolls, e-tolls, everywhere you look!

South Africa will in future be inundated with costly e-tolls. This is not just a Gauteng issue. As Nazir Alli, CEO of Sanral, recently said in Durban on 6 March, and repeated on the steps of the Cape High Court, he wants to convert "all South Africa's toll roads to e-tolls". Not only this, but more tolls roads are already being investigated by Sanral to add to the already numerous toll roads around the country. All provinces will ultimately be affected.

Last year Nazir Alli revealed in a parliamentary workshop that as part of Sanral’s 2012/13 Strategic Plan, the entity is researching building new toll-roads in the following areas:

  • N3 Durban to Pietermaritzburg;
  • N12 Kimberley to Johannesburg;
  • N1 Ring road at Musina;
  • N1 Kroonstad to Winburg; and
  • N1 Botlokwa Interchange and pedestrian facilities.


This is in addition to the N1-N2 Winelands toll road in the Western Cape, the N2 Wild Coast toll road in the Eastern Cape and e-tolls in Gauteng.


The criteria to be used to determine whether to push ahead with these toll roads is whether enough money can be made from charging motorists, to make the setting up of the toll road viable – that’s it! It’s a money game.


Why is the government so adamant that it needs to cover the length and the breadth of the Republic with e-toll roads in spite of the massive public outcry? The answer is similar to the crisis at Eskom over the past two decades: Government failed to spend on the roads infrastructure in the years when it had the money.


The South African National Road Agency Limited (Sanral) misleads us by stating that the road maintenance backlog is about R149 billion, which means that we have to have many new toll roads across the country to fix government’s mess. Unfortunately for the argument, the math doesn’t add up. The studies by the Automobile Association (AA), and the Southern African Bitumen Association (SABITA), point out the problem, but if you look at the annual budget documents supplied by Treasury and the annual audits supplied by the Auditor General, you can clearly see that between 2003 and 2008, an average of more than R21 billion was brought in from the fuel levy, per annum while only an average of R7.4 billion was spent on the roads! That leaves R14 billion wasted by this government on other projects. If you approximate R14 billion per annum from 1994, until around 2010, that gives an approximate R238 billion of fuel levy money misused by this government. We only need, according to Sanral in 2013, R149 billion to cater for the road maintenance backlog. Government spent the money elsewhere and now pretends that we have to pay tolls to afford our roads.


Sanral and the Minister of Transport know this very well and continue to hide the truth from the public. Nazir Alli stated last year (IOL): “The first shortcoming in this proposal is that the fuel levy is by law not ring-fenced for road infrastructure development. The funds collected through the fuel levy go into the central fiscus.” Notice that he doesn’t say there wasn’t enough money in past years; he effectively verifies my point that the fuel levy should be ringfenced and that it would then be sufficient if it was spent on the roads instead of the government’s vanity projects such as bailing out SAA, Nkandla and many others.

Alli says again in Engineering News: “Using a fuel levy to fund road infrastructure is also not sustainable, he states. It may be an immediate solution, but considering the projected demand for road infrastructure in South Africa, it will not be sufficient in the future.” Well, he is again indirectly saying that until now it would have worked if we had just used the fuel levy.

Sanral has a major problem forcing it to implement toll roads. Provincial governments (except the Western Cape) are struggling to resurface, maintain and upgrade their tarred (pavement) provincial roads. This is as result of a lack of skilled project managers, and corruption resulting in spending being diverted that should be spent on roads. (It is of course exacerbated by the budget often being far below the fuel levy income.) As the roads deteriorate, they are forced to hand over large chunks of provincial roads to Sanral to stave off total collapse of the provincial road infrastructure. The Eastern Cape handed over 2,300km of roads to Sanral, Limpopo handed over 1,600km and at least 987km of roads from the North West were handed over also. Rumour has it that the Free State is next in the queue. In the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, Sanral admitted that they did not have the funds to take on this extra work and that it amounted to an unfunded mandate. Sanral also indicated to the committee that they would have to request treasury to allocate additional funds for them to perform the additional work. Treasury appears to have declined this request three years in a row. This now amounts to an unfunded mandate.

By putting Sanral in the position where it must take on tens of thousands of additional road kilometers to maintain, expecting a higher quality of work than the provinces, failing to increase the Sanral budget in relation to the increased work load and not ringfencing the fuel levy, government is forcing Sanral to raise funds elsewhere through debt financing, which requires payment and the only method left to fund this is the rapid increase in the number of toll roads, many of which will need to be implemented on existing freeways or provincial roads. The only other alternative is for Sanral to stop resurfacing roads or building new ones, which would put Sanral in the same condition as the chaotic provincial transport departments.

With all of this in mind we can safely say that while government spends our fuel levies on vanity projects and demands more of Sanral, you can bet your bacon that we will see wholesale roll out of e-tolls in future, not just on existing toll roads, but with a significant number of new toll roads around the country. Get ready to pay through the nose. DM

Ian Ollis MP is the DA Shadow Transport Minister and can be followed on Twitter @ianollis


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