Expectations are again being created that a final decision on the future of e-tolls on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) is imminent.
Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula reportedly said during a recent interview with television news channel eNCA that a final announcement about the future of e-tolls, not only in Gauteng but across the country, is expected later this month.
“After July 19, you will get our response,” said Mbalula.
However, motorists should not hold their breath. Many such declarations have been made in the past, only for the deadline to pass without any pronouncement being made.
One obvious hurdle
Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams confirmed on Tuesday that there won’t be a cabinet meeting on Wednesday (July 21), and that following a recess cabinet meetings will only resume either next week or the week thereafter.
Mbalula said during the eNCA interview that the transport department will be meeting National Treasury to discuss e-tolls before presenting its report to cabinet.
A public announcement will only be made once cabinet has endorsed “our approach with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni”, he said.
Mbalula told the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on May 6 that a government announcement on the future of e-tolls would be made in the next two weeks.
He subsequently said during his budget vote speech on May 21 that a decision by the government on the future of the e-toll system is “imminent”.
The cost of government community and business support and relief initiatives in response to the damage and destruction of property and infrastructure caused by last week’s unrest and looting – as well as anticipated job losses from resulting business closures – is likely to be an added financial complication to the resolution of the drawn out e-tolls saga.
Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage queried what Mbalula is implying with his statement about e-tolls around the country.
Duvenage said the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) indicated a long time ago that e-tolls do not work in South Africa and will not be rolled out anywhere else.
“Tolling is one thing – and e-tolling is another thing,” he said. “I won’t hold my breath [for a decision soon].”
Duvenage added that the only decision that Outa believes can be made on e-tolls is that it will not be applied in the context of eNatis being a disaster because it has bad information, the Post Office “is non-existent” and question marks about what needs to be done about the administration and enforcement of e-tolls.
DA Gauteng shadow MEC for roads and transport Fred Nel said Mbalula has strung along motorists and consumers in the province since February this year, promising imminent announcements on the future of e-tolls no less than four times, with the last promise made in May.
“It is almost two months since his last deadline of making an announcement and not a peep has been heard from the minister. Each time he points a finger to cabinet which needs to make the final decision.
“It is clear that Mbalula cannot get an agreement from cabinet and that he is clearly at loggerheads with his colleagues who seem to be concerned about the cost of scrapping the system.”
Government playing for time?
“Mbalula can no longer evade responsibility on e-tolls and his delaying tactics are causing more suspicion about the government’s intentions to scrap the system,” Nel added.
“The ANC government is clearly playing for time as the announcement may make things uncomfortable for them on 27 October when the local government elections are scheduled to take place,” he claimed. “They clearly do not want to make their decision known before then.”
Mbalula previously said he had presented nine possible solutions to government to resolve the e-tolls impasse, the first of which is “to scrap the e-tolls”.
However, Mbalula highlighted the financial commitments that have been made in terms of the repayment of the debt to finance the GFIP.
Mbalula stressed that the bigger issue for government is not the scrapping of e-tolls but sustaining its position on the bond market by living up to its obligations by servicing the e-toll debt.