Opinionista Wayne Duvenage 21 May 2015

What changes, Mr Ramaphosa?

The new e-toll dispensation, as proposed by Deputy President Ramaphosa, is nothing but a continuation of the past inefficient farce that e-tolls has become and will remain forevermore.

If one unpacks the tariff reductions, so elegantly announced and a kind gesture on behalf of government, well, nothing meaningful has actually happened. The current e-tagged rate is 30c per km. This has not reduced. What has merely happened, is the removal of the punitive standard tariff which very few people were paying for anyway. By reducing a tariff category that was being ignored in the first place is like trying to sell rotten peaches at half the price. They will still not sell.

Furthermore, removing the need to fit an e-tag will not result in society flocking to the kiosks or websites to pay for an irrational scheme, which they largely insist should never have been introduced in the first place.

The reduction of the cap from R450 to R225 per month is another complete farce. Even by SANRAL’s admission, over 90% of the e-tagged road users were not achieving these levels in the past, so this reduction really only appeals to a small minority of road users. They also know that the rate of today is not the rate of tomorrow.

And what’s this writing off 60% of the debt – what debt? I don’t owe SANRAL a cent. This e-toll decision was introduced in contravention of elements within Section 195 of the Constitution, which makes it unacceptable, and I have every right to disobey a policy that is unjust. These proposed amendments have not addressed the scheme’s irrationality, its cumbersomeness or its gross inefficiencies. So the question becomes one of: why do the authorities think I will be happy to pay 40% of a bill that I had no intention of paying in the first place?

Now let’s talk about the linking payment of e-toll bills to the renewal of vehicle licenses. Really, what on earth makes one believe this will change matters? This time last year, six months after the launch of e-tolls, SANRAL was threatening motorists with prosecutions and criminal records. Yet the best they could achieve was a 45% compliance level, which is a massive fail for a scheme that requires over 90% to succeed.

The new coercive tactic will merely push up the rate of unlicensed vehicles on our roads; more unruly behaviour; more corruption and bribes will be paid. An entirely new “untraceable but valid” license disc and matching plates industry will be spawned. People will register cars in other provinces and clone plates of cars from neighbouring states or other provinces. I don’t for one minute advocate that members of the public should do this. I am merely saying that many WILL do this because they can. Because the levels of administration, controls and enforcement are so outrageously weak, more and more people will unfortunately run roughshod over the system. Just as it is currently possible for unlicensed and un-roadworthy taxis and cars to proliferate our streets, so the unintended consequences of this new plan will exacerbate the Metro Police department’s headaches to no end.

Picture the scene: an old lady who diligently pays her e-toll bills, but has a dispute with SANRAL over incorrect invoices (due to another car having cloned her plates) rightfully refuses to pay these bills. She then arrives at the Post Office to renew her license. Does the Post Office employee send the lady away to drive her now unlicensed vehicle home and to church the next day, effectively forcing her to break the law? This is just one of thousands of different scenarios that will come into play. This new attempted regulation will be challenged hard by the legal fraternity, make no mistake.

Simply put, the new dispensation proposed is weak and nonsensical. Logical thinking has not been applied and for this reason, the scheme will continue to be rejected and ignored by the majority of Gauteng motorists. This situation appears to have been a desperate attempt by different levels of government to appease one another, whilst completely forgetting to take cognizance of the wishes of the very people who are expected to pay for the scheme. Over 90% of input from society at every engagement process to date has rejected the scheme. Yet the authorities will try to convince us they have listened to the input and the wishes of people?

Besides not addressing the cumbersome and inefficient nature of the scheme, the new dispensation has not addressed the exorbitant collection costs or the fact that off-shore companies will continue to be enriched at the expense of South African motorists. And then there is SANRAL’s big headache that will not dissipate; the odious debt of approximately R7 billion overcharge for the freeway upgrade, resulting from collusive behavior and poor oversight by SANRAL, which society is not obliged to pay for. They have not addressed this problem at all.

Let’s put this matter into perspective now. The fuel levy has been increased by over R31 billion rand per annum since the freeway construction began in 2008, i.e. from R24 billion per annum to approximately R55 billion expected during the current tax year. This increase equates to almost two GFIP projects per annum. Paid for in cash. Every year, just from the increased fuel levy collections. And yet all we need is R1,9 billion of the extra R31 billion per annum, to settle the GFIP bonds, with interest, over 24 years. It’s the choice between this easy, efficient, zero administration cost option, or a continued fight with the residents of Gauteng for the rest of time. Which option makes more sense?

Coercive tactics and carrots will not change the nature of the beast. No matter how much the pig is disguised, it remains a pig and the public will not be fooled.

So I ask you, Honorable Deputy President, Mr Ramaphosa, what is it about scrapping this irrational scheme that your Cabinet cannot come to grips with? Yes, we know there are existing contracts. But these can be handled. Learning organisations and governments, which are in touch with reality and their citizens, are those who have the ability to acknowledge mistakes, especially those of such grandiose proportion, long before they are even implemented. Yet it would seem this government is being willingly led down a most irrational path to nowhere on the e-toll issue, at great and unnecessary expense to society.

I, for one, refuse to have anything to do with this nonsense, and I will never pay these e-toll bills. DM