Will Thursday see civil celebrations or renewed vigour to end e-tolls?
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) is pleased that finally, two months after the President’s deadline for a solution to e-tolls was due, the Transport Minister will be making some announcement on the fate of e-tolls on Thursday.
“It shouldn’t be a difficult decision, as Government now has had almost six years of empirical evidence of e-tolls as a failed road-financing mechanism, and been shown that it is a system that they can’t apply in half measures or at reduced tariffs,” says Wayne Duvenage, OUTA’s CEO. “They either generate their finance for the bonds from tolls or find another mechanism.”
We are surprised at Minister Mbalula’s recent comments in relation to e-tolls when he said: “Across our system we have found that the user-pays principle is direct, targeted, fairer and extremely efficient.” If this were the case, then collection rates would be around the 90% level or more, however, e-toll compliance languishes around 20%.
“There’s nothing efficient about that in this user-pays scheme and, furthermore, it is not a fair system when it comes to applying an additional tax to one city’s motorists and not others,” says Duvenage.
The e-tolls system is a “drive-now-pay-later” scheme that relies on the existence of a very accurate eNaTIS system (this is not the case) and a very efficient postal service (also not the case). “Just those two factors alone make the entire scheme a grossly inefficient one, long before the authorities try to enforce whatever stick-and-carrot approach is available to coerce people to pay.”
Should the Minister announce the retention of e-tolls on Thursday, we expect this will be followed by a multi-faceted Government marketing plan to entice defaulters into the scheme. This would in OUTA’s opinion be a grave mistake, especially in light of the fact that civil society and business organisations have denounced the scheme and would prefer to see an efficient funding mechanism that falls within existing Government policy being implemented.
Without widespread public support this scheme has failed and will continue to do so, despite Government’s multiple efforts to change that.
During a recent engagement with the Minister of Transport, OUTA requested that he initiate two extensive and independent investigations into the excessive price of the Gauteng freeway upgrade and the ETC contract, which was signed at almost 50% higher than the tendered amount. Until there is absolute transparency and full explanations are provided to the public, the scheme will be viewed as a corrupt one and will never receive public support.
“Thursday will either be a day of ‘civil celebration’ for a wise decision made by Government brought about by societal pressure, or it will be a day that OUTA will unpack Government’s tactics to breathe life into its defunct scheme and mark a resurgence of OUTA’s fight to protect the public from this grossly irrational, inefficient and unworkable system,” says Duvenage.