E-tolls were the hot topic at the start of the year again. Picture: SUPPLIED
E-tolls were the hot topic at the start of the year again. Picture: SUPPLIED

The ANC on Tuesday reaffirmed the user-pay principle in dealing with the financing of major infrastructure, at a time when pressure is mounting on the party to scrap e-tolling in the country’s economic hub, Gauteng. 

E-tolls have been a hot potato for the party’s provincial leadership in Gauteng, with the party losing two key metros of Tshwane and Joburg to opposition alliances. Among other reasons, the party attributed the reduced support to e-tolls.

The recent war of words between premier David Makhura and finance minister Tito Mboweni, who is adamant that citizens should pay their e-tolls, is proof of the controversy of the user-pay principle in the province.

During his state of the province address earlier in July, Makhura said the Gauteng government’s stance on e-tolls had not changed and that it was  “determined to ensure that e-tolls are not part of the future of our province”.

However, the matter was in the national government’s hands.

The SA National Roads Agency’s (Sanral) 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.

ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule said on Tuesday that the party’s national executive committee, which held a four-day meeting at the weekend, had noted and supported the process by the government to deal with the matter of e-toll so that it was resolved amicably and expeditiously.

Magashule said the national executive committee re-affirmed the user-pay principle in dealing with financing of major infrastructure. But he did not give an indication of whether or not the system would be scrapped.

“When we talk about infrastructure in SA we are actually just saying, whether you need electricity, whether you need any other thing, you are going to have to pay for it.

“So the user-pay principle, is a principle we want to generally talk about when we look into issues of infrastructure so that we fast-track [it], because our focus now is going to be on rural areas, [and] in townships, we have to make sure that the economy of SA is shared amongst the people now,” he said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has mandated minister of transport Fikile Mbalula working with Mboweni and Makhura to submit to cabinet a solution to the impasse on e-tolls.  This was after the public spat between Mboweni and Makhura on the matter, which the president called “extremely unfortunate and deeply regrettable”.

Mboweni has been open about the fact that he believes citizens should pay their e-tolls.  In March, the minister voiced his unhappiness with Sanral’s decision not to pursue e-toll debt, saying it would have implications for the fiscus.

“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,” he said at the time. 

Fitch Ratings cut its outlook on SA’s debt to negative on Friday, while Moody’s Investors Service earlier in the week hinted strongly that it could no longer remain silent on SA’s deteriorating debt picture.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za