Opinionista Wayne Duvenage 5 June 2014

SANRAL: When disdain knows no bounds

SANRAL’s response to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rulings against their misleading advertising this week has been nothing short of condescending toward the citizens of South Africa. Vusi Mona’s comment that the “figures are correct and merely require confirmation by the Auditor General” is simply ‘cocking a snoot’ at the public, and requires serious introspection by the SANRAL Board.

Since when does SANRAL need the Auditor General to confirm their e-tag sales or extent of usage on the freeways? One can hardly imagine a fleet company being unaware of its actual fleet size until their auditors provided the number. Surely Mona must realise that the public is acutely aware of SANRAL’s technological capability to provide the actual number of vehicles with and without e-tags, registered and un-registered, passing under the GFIP gantries by the minute, day or month. There is no need for auditors or secrecy in providing these actual numbers to the very public that pays SANRAL’s salaries.

In response to the press this week, Mona speaks of differences between vehicles registered with and without tags, saying that “all of these factors lead to misunderstanding of the figures that SANRAL reports on.” What figures does SANRAL report on, Mr Mona? Please point us to them. Maybe some external guidance on what we seek will assist, as it really is quite simple. Even those at the back of the international maths literacy class are able to grasp the detail. We ask (or is it ‘dare’) SANRAL to provide society with three easy-to-obtain numbers in the table below, at the end of each month, and post a link thereto from their website home page.

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OUTA’s research on e-tag counts were confirmed as being extremely accurate by Minister Peters in answers to questions in Parliament on 5 March this year, so it’s not as though OUTA’s claims and accusations were being made without substance. But instead of acknowledging OUTA’s claims and behaving transparently, SANRAL pooh-poohed them and proceeded in arrogance to spend taxpayers’ money to advertise their spurious numbers of 1,2 million e-tag sales. What else could the public do but channel an enquiry through a sound and reliable institution such as the ASA to call SANRAL to account?

SANRAL’s history of misleading or questionable information is long. Some of these examples are:

  • Adverts in 2014 which stated that 83% of freeway users would pay less than R100 and under 1% would reach the maximum of R450 – under e-tag conditions. SANRAL couldn’t (or wouldn’t) provide verified evidence of these claims and the ASA ruled against their advertisements to this regard.
  • In 2012, SANRAL claimed a cost to benefit ratio for road users of 8,4:1 on the cost of tolls, a claim that was rejected by OUTA and economists. One would have imagined that by now, SANRAL would have conducted research to confirm these earlier claims. They most certainly could have, but dare they?
  • In June 2013, Mona claimed an astonishing increase of 150% in SANRAL’s e-tag sales, from 250,000 tags in Mid April to 600,000 by June 2013. OUTA exposed this untruth in that the authorities had already claimed e-tag sales figures at over the 500,000 mark a few months earlier, well above Mona’s 250,000 number. Mona’s silence to OUTA’s accusations in this matter remains puzzling.
  • In February this year, another complaint to the ASA by Ivan Moor about SANRAL’s misleading advertising resulted in SANRAL agreeing to withdraw its claims that 83% of e-toll revenues would go into the road.
  • In September 2012, SANRAL claimed in court it could and would start with e-tolling within two weeks of the Constitutional Court ruling it could proceed. They were unable to launch for another 15 months.
  • Throughout the past decade, there is significant evidence of SANRAL’s irregular behaviour and undermining of rural communities in Pondoland, to introduce a tolled route through the pristine rural tribal lands of the Wild Coast.
  • This week, Mona tried to shift the blame of SANRAL’s human evictions from their land at Lwandle onto the Cape Town City Council, an approach which is nothing short of preposterous and led to the Minister of Transport apologising for this debacle on behalf of SANRAL.

One has to ask why this relentless unsavoury behaviour is allowed to continue unabated. Even this week, SANRAL’s e-toll vans strategically positioned themselves at the Gauteng Police license and number-plate vehicle checks, which had nothing to do with e-tolls, knowing full well that their presence at these points would frighten a few more road users into tagging up out of fear. Deceitful intimidation?

Mona further responded this week that “[t]he accusation that SANRAL is dishonest about the e-tag figures is concerning to us and we take it very seriously”. Well, so do we, Mr Mona, so do we. The citizens who pay your salary are no fools and demand a lot more respect than you care to give.

This week Max du Preez called on the Minister to have the SANRAL Board account for their behavior in Lwandle. I endorse this call from Mr du Preez, but ask the call to go further and reach the many incidents of seriously questionable and often appalling behavior displayed by the leadership of this once respected institution. We further ask the SANRAL board to appoint an independent body to help recover of the billions of rands overcharged by the collusive GFIP construction companies.

Finally, I’d ask that the SANRAL Board to take a hard and honest, introspective look at the organisation they represent, and ask themselves if indeed they represent a body that is open, transparent and inclusive. We, the public, expect nothing less from them, and if they want the people’s opinion on SANRAL’s ability to live up to these values – they should simply do the research. DM

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