E-tolling to fund the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Plan (GFIP) is right up there with the best of them. Under an ANC government that is constantly looting public funds, the e-toll saga stands alongside the Nkandla upgrade as a scandalous undertaking.
The e-toll issue has been well documented and there is any amount of information available on the internet, but you have to have a grudging admiration for the architect – or architects – of a scheme that is going to make a lot of money for some ANC cadres and an Austrian company awarded the tender for e-toll collections.
You also have to despair over the way an increasingly corrupt government and the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) have arrogantly turned a blind eye to opposition to e-tolling from the public, business and industry.
We all accept that maintaining our freeway and road network is essential. The fuel levy already provides about R40 billion, which is supposed to go towards road maintenance, so into which pockets is much of that money disappearing?
Dipuo Peters, the new Minister of Transport, said recently that R8,7 billion had been allocated to provinces for road maintenance. We wonder into which pockets a large percentage of that money is going to go.
At the time of writing, several other issues have been highlighted that underline the fact that e-tolling is going to have a major effect on the everyday life of people who live in Gauteng – and many who live outside the province. Visitors to Gauteng will not be exempt and will have to buy day passes to use our major roads.
E-tolling is going to have a major effect on inflation, and additional transport costs will simply be passed on to the consumer.
A recent report in The Citizen newspaper said the average family would spend 20% of its annual income on transport costs – and that is a distressing statistic.
In dismissing the latest legal attempt by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) to halt e-tolling, Judge Fritz Brand noted that it was the poor who would suffer most from rising inflation and travel costs. In what we can only describe as a strange ruling, the learned judge dismissed the application because e-tolling was too far down the road to scrap!
The cynics may say that the problem is that some questionable payments have already been made. Scrapping e-tolling would see the Austrians cry foul and blow the whistle on some fat cats’ inflated bank accounts.
Bailing out Sanral to the tune of around R20 billion, although there are estimates that the project has now cost double that, would amount to about 0.2% of government expenditure for the year. That would be a small price to pay to win back some public support with an election looming – and get rid of those hideous gantries.
We have also had to listen to normal ANC and Sanral claptrap as to why we should all be good citizens and rush out and buy e-tags. One of those expounding this view is a good example that the ANC is not in the least interested in clean and transparent government.
Remember Ruth Bhengu? She is the convicted Travelgate fraudster who described her offence as “trivial”, and who now chairs the parliamentary portfolio committee on transport.
Why she is still in parliament and allowed to chair an important portfolio like transport is beyond belief.
Bhengu’s status and the fact that most of the paperwork that would tell us just where the e-toll money is going is under wraps again underline the off-hand attitude the ANC and Sanral have taken towards clean governance and public opposition to e-tolling.
It was perhaps inevitable that Outa would eventually run out of funds and be forced to throw in the towel. So now it is up to the good citizens of Gauteng, and those who visit our province, to put a very large spanner in the e-toll works.
It is estimated that around two million motorists use the e-toll freeways every day, and that about 600 000 e-tags have been sold. Most of those sales, we imagine, are for government vehicles (funded by the taxpayer), hire car companies and some of the bigger fleet and transport operators.
We don’t like to bandy around phrases like “civil disobedience”, but if enough of the 3.5-million motorists in Gauteng and visitors to the province refuse to buy an e-tag, the whole e-toll concept will eventually disappear up its own orifice.
Sanral has evidently approached the Justice Ministry to discuss setting up special e-toll courts, but those of us who refuse to buy e-tags will have sheer numbers on our side.
If around 20% of motorists who use the e-toll freeways don’t have e-tags the authorities, and the postal system, will have to process around two million offenders a month.
Free movement within the borders of South Africa is a constitutional right, so join us at Leisure Wheels in refusing to buy an e-tag.