Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Finance minister Tito Mboweni has called on the embattled SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) to reverse its decision not to pursue e-toll debt, saying it will have implications for the fiscus.

Speaking at a media briefing on Thursday, Mboweni said he was "unhappy" with the decision. "They should never have taken that decision," he told journalists in Pretoria. "It is not helpful in the bond market, [and] it is undermining what we have said in the budget that we support the user must pay principle.

"They must reverse that decision immediately otherwise it has implications for the bond market, it has implications for the fiscus, it has implications for their own credit rating and the credit rating of the country."

Moody’s Investors Service is expected to make its pronouncement on SA’s credit ratings on Friday. Moody’s is the last of the three ratings agencies that has SA above subinvestment grade.

Earlier in 2019, Moody's said SA had started the year on a stable outlook.

Sanral’s e-tolling project, which was launched in December 2013, has largely been a failure as a result of low levels of compliance from Gauteng motorists. Subsequently the agency has struggled with low revenues and rising debt levels.

There have been growing calls for the government to scrap the e-toll system.

Late in 2018, transport minister Blade Nzimande insisted in the National Assembly that the government had not made a decision to do away with e-tolls in Gauteng. This was after Gauteng premier David Makhura said that e-tolls needed to be scrapped, and that they had no future in the province as long as the ANC was in charge.

The Sanral board announced on Wednesday that it had resolved to suspend the process of pursuing e-toll debt with immediate effect, which included historic debt and summonses applied for from 2015.

Mboweni reiterated that Sanral’s decision must be reversed and that people must learn not to take "careless decisions in the middle of a difficult financial situation. So pay your taxes, render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar," he said.

The ANC in Gauteng welcomed Sanral’s decision saying sanity had prevailed.

E-tolls is a major election issue in Gauteng, where the ANC will fight to hold on to its majority on May 8. Polling shows the ANC in the province could fall short of the 50% it needs to retain it.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse said Mboweni’s comments were a sign of confusion in the government over the
e-tolling saga. "This comment by the finance minister is a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing," said CEO Wayne Duvenage.

"This shows a government that is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy which has an impact on investors and ratings agencies and the public."

Cosatu on Thursday berated Mboweni for his comments, calling on the ANC to rein in the finance minister.

"We are not surprised by his statements because he has been behaving like this since his appointment," spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said. "Minister Mboweni has a Czar complex and is also a potty mouth without any impulse control."

quintalg@businesslive.co.za