Fikile Mbalula. Picture: THE TIMES
Fikile Mbalula. Picture: THE TIMES

The cabinet will decide in two weeks’ time on a final option for dealing with e-tolls after considering seven options, transport minister Fikile Mbalula said on Thursday.

The controversy over the payment of e-tolls as part of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) has raged for years with motorists refusing to pay the fees. Mbalula said the amount of unpaid fees now amounted to about R67bn.

A task team appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, including Mbalula, finance minister Tito Mboweni, Gauteng premier David Makhura and SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral), will consider the options on the table and submit a preferred option to the next cabinet meeting.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni has implored motorist to pay e-tolls but cabinet says it needs more time to decide on the future of the system. Business Day TV spoke to the department of transport's spokesperson Ayanda Allie Paine about what this means given the low levels of compliance from motorists.

The idea will be to introduce a reconfigured e-toll scheme, Mbalula said at a media briefing to clear up the confusion over cabinet's position after a statement by Mboweni in his written speech on the medium-term budget policy statement in parliament on Wednesday. He said after considering several options to resolve the impasse over the GFIP, the government had decided to retain the user-pay principle. 

“We need to build a culture of payment as government services can only be sustainable if all of us that can pay for services do so,” Mboweni said. However, in his oral delivery he said that consultations over e-tolls were continuing.

During a briefing to four parliamentary committees on the medium-term budget on Thursday, Mboweni reiterated this stance in response to comments by EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu, who insisted that motorists would not pay for e-tolls and that the authorities had no way to force them to do so.

“It is not going to happen,” Shivambu said.

Mboweni said the GFIP was meant to improve the roads, ease congestion and free up the flow of traffic, and “for that improvement we have to ensure that the investment that is made there is returned. That is what it is all about — a return on investment for our own benefit.” 

While Mbalula would not be pressed into conceding that Mboweni got it wrong, he did note that the finance minister had left the cabinet meeting before a final decision was taken. Mbalula stressed that while cabinet had reflected on the GFIP matter at its meeting on Wednesday, no final decision on its future had been taken. Cabinet wanted further work to be done on the options on the table.

The seven options on the table were:

  • Cancellation of the e-toll scheme with full responsibility for debt servicing of the scheme falling on government. Mbalula noted that government does not have the money.
  • A partial shadow toll scheme which would link the toll scheme to a government subsidy of below 100%.
  • Selling the existing GFIP debt to a private concessionaire who would have to agree that enforcement by the state would take place.
  • The introduction of a public transport fund to prioritise public transport on freeways and support the Gautrain. 
  • The introduction of a hybrid funding model including a combination of taxes, a fuel levy and licence fees to subsidise toll fees.
  • A further dispensation and physical toll plaza installation.
  • Implementation of the e-toll scheme as it was intended. This would entail motorists paying e-tolls.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za