E-toll write-off not on the cards, says minister
Sanral is owed close to R9.2bn in unpaid fees, with resistance to fees strongest in Gauteng
Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi on Wednesday dismissed speculation that his department was considering writing off billions of rand in e-toll debt in Gauteng.
Resistance to the toll fees in Gauteng has been particularly strong, leaving the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) being owed close to R9.2bn in unpaid fees with the default bill said to be growing at R230m every month.
Maswanganyi was replying to questions from members of Parliament on Wednesday afternoon. His reply followed the release of Sanral’s annual report, in which Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu said noncompliance would affect Sanral’s status as a going concern.
Maswanganyi said Sanral was considering an impairment of part of the debt and any decision to write off tolling debt or to abandon the user-pays system would have to be taken at cabinet level. "The e-toll debt has not been written off and there is no intention [to do so]. Sanral has applied accounting treatment to impair R3.6bn of the debt.
"The e-tolls will not be scrapped on the basis of impairment and any future decision on the matter will be decided and discussed by Cabinet."
EFF MP Tilivhali Mulaudzi said it was absurd for the government to cling to the e-tolling system with compliance levels as low as they were.
He questioned the sanity of embracing a system that Gauteng motorists had rejected.
Mulaudzi told the minister it was not the EFF that was rejecting the e-tolls but supporters of the ANC. "Why is government forcing e-tolls on people who don’t want them?"
Maswanganyi insisted the national government and Gauteng’s economy were better off because of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) and the e-toll system, which the government had chosen to finance the freeway upgrades.
"There are benefits to GFIP. It has reduced travel hours, millions of travel hours are saved in productivity, and improved driving conditions.
"It has also unlocked huge development opportunities such as Menlyn Road and Waterfall Park.
"We have 1.4-million tagged vehicles using GFIP. It is not correct to say that everyone is rejecting the system; R65m is being paid. We are not collecting R230m and we must resolve that before announcing future tolls. We are not saying we won’t toll in future, but for now our R48bn debt must be serviced," Maswanganyi said.
The minister said the government was also considering other ways to pay for the GFIP.
"There are other options including the fuel levy. However, it would not be right for me to prescribe the best option."