Defend Truth

Opinionista

The official death of e-tolls is a master class in rightful civil defiance

mm

Wayne Duvenage is a businessman and entrepreneur turned civil activist. Following former positions as CEO of AVIS and President of SA Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association, Duvenage has headed the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse since its inception in 2012.

While the end of e-tolls is cause for celebration, it also highlights the need for transparency, accountability and good governance in policy decisions. The entire saga has also been a testament to the resilience of civil society and the importance of holding those in power accountable.

The demise of the e-tolling system in Gauteng stands as a testament to the power of collective action and the refusal to accept unjust policies. After a decade of enduring the burdensome e-toll scheme, the recent gazette announcement to turn the scheme off on 11 April 2024 heralds a victory for taxpayers and citizens alike.

The origins of the Gauteng e-toll saga date back to 2008 when a gazette by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) quietly declared Gauteng’s congested freeways as tolled roads in preparation for a construction upgrade that would take place between 2008 and 2011.

However, it wasn’t until late in 2010 that the public became fully aware of the government’s plans to introduce an electronic tolling scheme to fund the freeway upgrade, which was initially planned to be switched on in early 2011.

Public surprise and outrage against the e-toll scheme emerged and organisations such as Cosatu and political parties cast doubt on the government’s decision throughout 2011.

The scheme raised the ire of businesses, particularly the fleet industry and other industry bodies, leading in early 2012 to the formation of the civil action organisation known as the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), which later expanded its mandate in 2016 to tackle public sector corruption under its new name, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse.

Contrary to government propaganda that sought to deride Outa, the organisation was not opposed to paying for the road upgrade, nor did it oppose the user-pays principle.

Outa’s initial concerns were triggered by the scheme’s high cost relative to existing alternative infrastructure financing mechanisms at the government’s disposal.

The scheme also trampled on government policies pertaining to the freedom of movement and transparency.

As the e-toll scheme approached its final launch date on 30 April 2012, having missed several deadlines throughout 2011, Outa’s research – along with its decision to test the decision in a court review – revealed the scheme was more sinister than initially envisaged and was peppered with corruption concerns, further legitimising its cause and calls to shut it down.

Despite Sanral’s reputation as an efficient state entity prior to 2010, the lack of transparency and gross maladministration pertaining to Gauteng freeway construction collusion became a serious issue for the scheme’s detractors.

What should have been an upgrade costing no more than R7-billion ended up with a price tag of R18-billion. There was no excuse for Sanral to lose control of these costs to this extent.

Claims of construction company collusion and price demand pressures (in the lead-up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup) did not add up.

The initial e-toll tariff indicated by Sanral in 2011 for regular vehicles was R0.60 per kilometre. However, to quell public outrage, Sanral reduced the tariff no less than three times to an eventual launch charge of R0.30 per km. 

This merely fuelled more mistrust in the scheme and the public began to wonder what the government would have done with the extra revenue earned had they simply bowed to Sanral’s plans.

In addition to revelations of a scheme that reeked of corruption and maladministration, the scheme was fraught with cumbersome administrative challenges due to its heavy reliance on the country’s inefficient postal system.

Public resistance was further exacerbated by Sanral’s various threatening and disingenuous campaigns between 2013 and 2019 which warned motorists of high punitive tariffs if they paid late, and that those who refused to pay would face criminal records and would not be allowed to renew their vehicle and drivers’ licences.

Despite these threats, a high percentage of non-compliance became widespread from day one of the launch on 3 December 2013. 

Outa’s intelligence put compliance levels at around 30% on launch day and only a slight increase to 40% within the first six months by June 2014. This was after Sanral publicly stated its confidence in achieving in excess of 90% compliance levels within a few months of launch.

Outa’s management became incensed by Sanral’s misinformation tactics, which led to the introduction of its multi-pronged strategy to empower citizens with knowledge of the scheme’s flaws and their rights to oppose government policy that was grossly overpriced – especially one bearing the hallmarks of corruption.

As tensions heated up toward the scheme’s launch and beyond, Outa revealed that all Sanral’s enforcement claims were merely coercive tactics with little substance. 

This left Sanral with one option to claim outstanding fees, which was through a very expensive lawfare strategy by summonsing defaulting motorists and businesses, which they embarked on in 2015. 

This in turn led to Outa’s launch of an e-toll defensive campaign which promised to defend thousands of motorists who received a legal summons for nonpayment of their e-toll bills.

A turning point that dealt the ultimate death blow to the e-toll scheme came in March 2019 when, in the lead-up to the May 2019 national and provincial elections, Sanral announced that it no longer intended to pursue civil claims against e-toll defaulters.

This was clearly a decision with a political agenda, as the government realised its lawfare strategy with its citizens was not good for votes. 

As far as Outa was concerned, the beginning of the end for the contentious scheme was in sight, and shortly after Cyril Ramaphosa was elected President in June 2019, he instructed ministers Fikile Mbalula and Tito Mboweni (of transport and finance, respectively) to seek alternative financing methods for the Gauteng freeway upgrade bonds. 

Alarmingly, it took another five years to finally switch the scheme off.

The demise of the e-toll scheme was by no means the result of a willing government decision or the work of the ANC premier of Gauteng. I sincerely believe that no one person or organisation can claim to be the sole reason for the scheme’s closure.

While Outa’s structured litigation, civil disobedience and public empowerment campaign played a significant role, the overall collapse was due to a combination of civil activism and gross overreach by Sanral, whose grandiose plan was shrouded in arrogance and heavy with administrative complexities. 

It was always going to fail in the long run, once the public realised its power and refused to give in to the existence of an abusive government scheme.

While the end of e-tolls is cause for celebration, it also underscores the need for transparency, accountability and good governance in policy decisions.

The entire saga has also been a testament to the resilience of civil society and the importance of holding those in power accountable.

As we move beyond the e-toll saga, I had hoped we would see a fairer, more transparent and responsive government that truly represents the will of the people in the decisions it makes.

However, it appears that lessons have not been heeded from the e-toll debacle, as the government continues to forge ahead with poorly informed complex decisions that lack transparency and are steeped in controversy and excessive costs, such as the Aarto (licence demerit) scheme, National Health Insurance, nuclear energy procurement and other far-reaching decisions being implemented today. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • NICK GREENE says:

    OUTA (leadership and staff) must be complemented for keeping this matter constantly in the public domain. It is not only the increasingly deaf and corrupt government who need attention but also the partners in these nefarious projects, including foreign partners.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    Thank you Wayne and the rest of the OUTA team for spearheading the resistance to this classic ANC gravy pumping scheme. My OUTA subscription rides very light in the family budget.

  • Agf Agf says:

    Well done Wayne and everyone at OUTA.

  • Just Me says:

    This was a corrupt ANC inspired thing. #VoetsekANC

  • Jabu Mhlanga says:

    Strong relationships are built on mutual respect…this government never respected the public/citizenry. Period!!

  • Jabu Mhlanga says:

    Strong relationships are built on mutual respect…this government never respected the public/citizenry. Period!!

  • Michael Thomlinson says:

    This should be seen as an encouragement for us tax payers to get off our butts and do something about other pressing issues. Helen Zille is quoted as saying that there are only (astonishingly) 7 million registered, private, taxpayers in SA at the moment but I think this would exclude businesses. So surely we can rally people together to put real pressure on government by some means?

    • District Six says:

      Zille’s claims are complete hogwash. The tax pie is made up variously of different inputs. It’s racist claptrap that “only whites pay tax.” Educate yourself with Google. Type in “Tax pie, South Africa.”

      • Middle aged Mike says:

        Where do you seem him mentioning the race of the people paying tax?

      • Richard Baker says:

        Think you find that number in a recent SARS announcement (down from 7.9m to 7.3m)-anyway where does the colour of tax-payers feature?- but let’s have the conversation!
        Much more worrying is (as I understand) that of the ca. 7m-some 1.2m work for government/public service and a total 2.2m including municipalities and SOES.

        But none of those are part of the true tax-base. Their packages and the taxes deducted from them are all paid by non-government/non-public service (ie private sector) in the form of income-tax and rates. Scary stuff if I’m correct!

  • Bob Dubery says:

    Non-compliance was high almost from the word go, that’s true. But let’s not ascribe that to principle. OK… A principle: Not paying unless we absolutely have to. That’s what most of the non-payment was about.

    Instead Government will now need to resort to other methods to fund high use roads, and some auntie in Putsonderwater is going to pay for my commute up a road she will never see.

    • District Six says:

      Dude, the Auntie in Pofadder already pays the fuel levy with every litre of fuel. The fuel levy was (is) to pay for roads. The Auntie in Putsonderwater also benefits in kind from the economic hub that provides her a pension, a clinic, and yes, a road because that is how cross-subsidisation works.

    • District Six says:

      SANRAL dropped etolling onto the petrol-buying public with arrogance and high-handedness. We pay fuel levies of around 45% to finance the roads we drive on. The battle against etolling was never about paying for the road upgrades. It was always about the taxation – in this case, the double taxation – and the foreign entities making vast profits off us, and lack of partnership with the public. It also seems that the R20 billion capex was never going to be paid off with 80% of the costs going overseas (or at least running the system) and only 20% financing the principal debt.

  • mike muller says:

    Afraid that the resistance to E-tolls will likely be recorded by history as an example of a privileged middle class refusing to pay their way. The likely outcome will be the continuing congestion and decline of the Gauteng highway network or the diversion of funds away from the provision and maintenance of infrastructure in the province’s poorer communities – most likely both. We had the opportunity to take a continental lead in infrastructure financing – and fluffed it!

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      Twaddle. It was patently a connected cadre scam to extract rent. As OUTA proved, despite it’s massively and fraudulently increased capital cost it could have been paid for in full by a ringfenced increase in the fuel levy of 10c per litre in 3 years at zero additional cost of collection. Far from being the ‘privileged middle class’ refusing to pay it’s way it was a refusal to be scammed by the gravy suckers in government. If you think that the poor haven’t also footed the bill for this by the increase in pricing of anything that depends on a truck you’re intentionally deluding yourself.

    • District Six says:

      The devil is in the detail, though. In what financial universe does an 80/20 ratio of admin to debt service make sense? It will result in a perpetual debt. That does not sound like “a continental lead”.

      • Dave Martin says:

        That’s a fake stat from OUTA. They calculate that eTolls was 30% admin but only after they had mobilised everyone not to pay. The admin fee was fixed, so the % would have decreased if a higher proportion of people had paid for using the roads.

    • Dave Martin says:

      Well said Mike. The same people who praise this refusal to pay for the roads built with eTolls criticise Soweto residents who believe that they shouldn’t have to pay for the electricity they actually use. Same principle at play: in the end, the tolls would have cost less than R300 per month and would have sped up travel times and saved fuel (due to lower congestion).

      I would happily pay R300 per month just to have my 40km rural gravel road graded a couple of times per year. We all pay fuel taxes, so that’s not an argument why Gauteng should have got special treatment.

  • Notinmyname Fang says:

    Bravo OUTA!

  • Richard Baker says:

    Well done and thank you Wayne-we are also contributors to Outa and praise your brave exposure of state malfeasance. Also greatly value the comfort provided by your legal team against spurious and often bully-like tactics thrust upon us as the lay-public.
    The sad need for such watchdogs has not diminished (in fact probably increasing) as the ANC writhe to keep in power. Can see NHI being the next battleground for honest tax-paying citizens to fight against theft/passing over of private medical scheme reserves (actually belonging to members) and misuse of monthly premiums to be wasted on ideological pipe-dreams. Hope you’ll be there for the fight!

  • David Walker says:

    I salute you, Mr Duvenage. You are true hero of the struggle against the corruption of the ANC. The roads of Gauteng have been liberated! Aluta continua!

  • William Kelly says:

    The eTolls did one thing. They gave us OUTA. And as long as we have OUTA we have hope and a voice. Long may it live as our Batman in Gotham.

  • Peter Smith says:

    Well done OUTA! Yes, this was a scam from the start. The ANC selected the most expensive system in the world and only used in Austria which funded its development. It was developed to support the various technologies toll systems that were in use in 7 of the EU countries at the formation of the EU. But none of the EU countries could afford it. And free-tolling has never been used by any developing country. Fuel prices are already regulated, costing more in certain regions than others. It is totally feasible to use that method. For all tax collection methods, the cost of implementation and operation is of key importance. For example, the cost of collecting fees for vehicle license renewals is likely more than the fees collected.

  • Dave Martin says:

    Worth noting a few things here:
    1. Wayne was the CEO of Avis Rent A Car which was a big opponent of eTolls for profit reasons. He then formed OUTA and left Avis.
    2. South Africa’s best economists (e.g. UCT Prof Barry Standish) studied the eTolls system and said it was the fairest system that ensured the poor didn’t pay disproportionately for roads used mostly by the rich (taxis & buses were exempt from eTolls)
    3. The Gauteng road budget (partly funded by the fuel tax) was already exhausted so without eTolls, there would have been no road upgrades. Now that eTolls have been abandoned, this money will be taken from Education and Health budgets. Poor people in faraway hospitals will suffer because Gautengers didn’t want to pay for the roads funded by eTolls.
    4. eTolls were not just a method to finance bigger Gauteng roads: they were also a way to discourage congestion on the roads. Congestion results in an endless cycle of ever bigger roads being required as more and more cars use the roads. Congestion charges exist in many of the world’s leading cities. Mark my words, within 5 years when Gauteng’s roads are totally congested, then drivers will be demanding bigger roads, but this time you can be sure that SANRAL will only spend Gauteng’s share of the national budget. Gauteng drivers got away with this heist once, but not again.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted