Opinionista Wayne Duvenage 30 June 2014

Makhura’s e-toll promise: But will business take up the baton?

Reading David Makhura’s State of the Province Address, one becomes enthusiastically delighted by the many references and acknowledgement for a more inclusionary and participative government, one that seeks to involve the people and business they set out to improving the prosperity, efficiency and upliftment of society.

Encouraging words indeed and there is no doubt that Makhura kept the anticipated announcement of e-tolls for the end of his speech, which was also the topic that resulted in the loudest participation from the audience as well as the part that dominated the media coverage of his speech throughout Friday afternoon and into the weekend.

Recent mention of better and meaningful engagement with business by President Zuma – in his State of the Nation Address – was echoed in Makhura’s speech, and clearly the governing authorities are seeking to drive job creation and necessary improvements within and with various industry bodies and their corporate members. The question to the authorities however is; will they be prepared to engage with their critics in this regard, the Free Market Foundation, the various economists, the Herman Mashabas of this world?

And the question for big business is; is it ready to participate? Here I mean participate in a challenging manner and hopefully not guided in this process by the search for tenders and favourable regulations to drive up corporate profits. We need big business who incidentally transfers to government the VAT, PAYE, corporate taxes etc, to drive them on accountability for service delivery and reduced squandering of our hard earned taxes. We need business to beef up their industry associations with leadership that will challenge the status quo of government and not settle for mediocrity and excuses.

It is a disgrace that we, the citizens and business within Gauteng, have not demanded the improvement of our shocking traffic light and pothole situation that has plagued us for years, costing the province dearly in millions of lost productive man-hours. It’s a disgrace that we do not challenge the many inefficient and unjust regulations that permeate our society, the plastic bag tax that had every intention to change the face of litter and recycling, but which came to naught, along with other similar unjust taxes.

What will become of government’s planned carbon tax, if it is not challenged head on? Certainly, I for one, am aghast that a carbon neutral accredited company (in line with the United Nations Climate Change Convention) will have to pay carbon tax in South Africa’s planned policy, but guess what? It does, and heavily so. Will business challenge this? Somehow I think not.

The impasse on Gauteng’s e-tolls has obviously given Premier Makhura ample time to recognise the negative impact of Sanral’s scheme on the province, as well as the harm done to the legitimacy and credibility of the state by Sanral’s unjust, untruthful and offensive methods to enroll public support for the scheme. Sanral’s lack of transparency and forceful approach has merely alienated society and made the rejection of e-tolls from almost all sectors a virtual certainty over time. But the alienation and outright denouncement of the scheme has largely come from the millions of individual members of the public, civil action groups, the unions, some associations and faith based movements.

Big business and industry organisations on the other hand have largely been pretty meek and almost silent in denouncing the irrational e-toll system. Granted, there have been a handful of morally courageous businesses that have commented on the inefficiencies and problems encountered with the system and some that have provided OUTA with support to challenge the scheme, but these have been few. Sadly, the constant fear of a government backlash has pretty much resulted in business being mute on the matter. This in turn allowed Sanral to forge on regardless of the numerous consequences, the extra administration costs endured to reconcile e-toll accounts and passing on the costs to their customers.

Hopefully, big business will heed government’s invitation to become more inclusive in its decisions and policies, more robust in demands for efficiency, more hard on government’s wasteful business practices and maladministration. Hopefully big business leadership will start these engagements with government by seeking clarity of the rules on what inclusive participation means, thereby allowing them to have the courage to criticize and denounce irrational behavior, when this is so warranted. DM

 

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