Roads agency Sanral is looking forward to getting the e-toll “albatross” off its back as it is affecting the whole country, its chair Themba Mhambi said in parliament on Wednesday.

He was referring to what he said is the imminent announcement by the government of the approach to the payment of e-tolls and the funding of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), which has suffered from the non-payment by users.

The agency is currently only collecting between 25% and 30% of what it should be collecting from e-tolls on Gauteng freeways, according to Sanral CFO Inge Mulder.

A task-team established by President Cyril Ramaphosa whittled the options down to seven — including the adoption of the user-pay principle — and these were presented to the cabinet, which is deliberating on the issue.

Mhambi welcomed the “aggressive” way the government and transport minister Fikile Mbalula are addressing this issue, telling members of the select committee on transport, public service and administration, and public works that as long as e-tolls are not paid, Sanral has to use money it would use on upgrading or building national roads to repay interest to the investors in the GFIP.

“The leadership shown by the government has really been unbelievable. We are very satisfied with the way the government has handled this issue,” Mhambi said, adding that the political uncertainty over the payment of e-tolls has not helped Sanral.

While Sanral maintains that people must pay, there are very important political formations that are not happy with e-toll system; “The messages going out to the SA public have really been causing a lot of confusion,” he said.

Mhambi said Sanral’s financial position is quite precarious as a result of the GFIP , but apart from that it is stable.

In 2018, the agency got an allocation of R18.6bn from the government of which R12bn was spent on non-toll roads; R5.75bn had to be allocated to toll roads to address the funding shortfall on the Gauteng freeway project.

This transfer of funds had a significant effect on spending on non-toll roads and is not something Sanral wants to continue doing, Mulder said.

Mhambi conceded that Sanral had failed in its consultation processes over the Gauteng toll roads and is determined not to make the same mistake in future. “We did not do adequate consultation and that is part of the reason we are faced with this challenge today.” 

Consultation with communities to get their buy-in, he said, has become a central part of all projects underway.