Daily Maverick

An Open letter to Blade Nzimande: E-Toll Debacle Requires Sanity and Finality

Minister Blade Nzimande, your office has failed to respond to our letters that seek engagement on the e-Toll issue, prompting this open letter in search of sanity and resolution on this serious matter.

Minister Nzimande, we at OUTA sense your predicament and hesitation to pull the plug on the e-Toll scheme, however we urge you to seriously apply your mind and hear your critics on this issue. It is unfortunate that the supposedly viable e-toll scheme sold to Minister Jeff Radebe in 2007 to finance the freeway upgrade in Gauteng has turned out to be a disaster that now sits in your lap.

The support behind 75% of Gauteng motorists who have defied Government’s e-toll scheme can be found in the judgments of Western Cape Winelands Toll Roads court cases brought against SANRAL by the City of Cape Town in 2016.

If you have not already done so, please do yourself a favour and read these judgments and know that virtually every reason why SANRAL’s Western Cape e-toll scheme was thrown out of court is applicable in the Gauteng e-toll decision. The only difference is that in Gauteng, the bonds had already been borrowed and the roads had been built. This however doesn’t make the e-toll scheme lawful.

Legal arguments aside, the e-toll scheme has failed in its ability to be practically administered. The warnings of failure stem from the scheme’s reliance on an inaccurate e-Natis system, an inefficient postal service and the challenges of enforcement against millions of defiant road users which were unfortunately ignored. Five years of operation and the scheme’s compliance now sits at one in four and if you want examples of the horrendous billing errors and unresolved complaints, we have these in truckloads.

In March 2018, you called the e-tolls project “disastrous” and said Cabinet should consider a solution to the failed e-toll scheme. However, your recent announcement that there are no plans to scrap the e-tolls because the debt is R67-billion is confusing. The Gauteng freeway upgrades cost just under R22-billion, including VAT. What does the rest of SANRAL’s R67-billion debt have to do with e-tolls?

The reality is that the e-toll scheme will never achieve the collection levels required for success. What sense is there in collecting an average R65-million per month, only to pay virtually all that money back to the system and people who collect it for you? Almost nothing is going into servicing the bonds, and that situation will not change.

By scrapping the scheme, you lose nothing, but you gain the support of millions of citizens. You also gain the savings of millions of rand spent on Sanral’s legal expenses that simply makes a handful of lawyers very rich, as they merrily wage a litigation war against thousands of people on your behalf.

We are passionate about good, sensible and rational governance. We want this country to survive and thrive, which is the only reason we challenge policies which do not serve the best interests of the country.

As the Minister of Transport, it is your responsibility to find a solution. We are not the enemy. Please talk to us.

Yours sincerely,

Wayne Duvenage, OUTA. DM

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