Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele has appealed to the organisations bringing the court application to stop e-tolling in Gauteng, “not to jeopardise South Africa’s international creditworthiness”.
Ndebele also confirmed in an exclusive interview with Business Report at the Freight Intra-Africa South Conference in Pretoria yesterday that the government would be opposing the court application, which was lodged by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance on Friday.
The alliance was founded by the Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, Retail Motor Industry Organisation, SA Tourism Service Association, Quadpara Association of SA and the SA National Consumer Union.
The application is also supported by the Automobile Association of SA, Southern African Book Dealers’ Association, 109 registered businesses and 2 348 individuals.
Pedestrians pass an e-toll customer booth at Southgate Mall in Johannesburg. E-tolls will come into operation at the end of next month to finance Gautengs freeway upgrades if a court application by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance fails. Photo: Paballo Thekiso.
Ndebele said that everyone, particularly businesses, should look at the implications of the court action.
He stressed that the country borrowed R4 billion a week and questioned how long the international market would trust South Africa to honour its debt repayments when R20bn had been borrowed for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) and “we are saying we are not going to pay”.
“We should be looking at the interests of the country as a whole while working on whatever funding model that we think ultimately is the best.
“If this one is imperfect, then we are open to look at another model. That is why we are saying hold the phase two (of the GFIP).
“But let’s not let challenges and all those things impact on the creditworthiness of the country because it is becoming a serious worry to the Treasury,” he said.
Ndebele also questioned how there could be a quarrel about the method of collection.
“If a method of collection is found to be less efficient and more expensive, let’s look at another method.
“The key thing is that Treasury must send back (repay) the R20bn that we owe, however it is collected,” he said.
Ndebele said the R5.8bn allocation in the Budget to reduce GFIP e-tolling tariffs had come as a bailout from the provincial transport departments. And he questioned if this was appropriate given that it would stop development in the provinces.
He said Durban, for instance, had the International Convention Centre as a result of an idea generated by the city of Durban. “Can you imagine if Durban was to turn around and say Pietermaritzburg, Vryheid and Newcastle must pay for it when they don’t have a hall at all?” he asked.
Ndebele declined to comment on whether the government would be more comfortable with a provincial fuel levy in Gauteng to pay for the GFIP, indicating there was a need for a debate on these issues rather than the government having to respond to ideas on a piecemeal basis.
He also baulked at answering a question about whether the government had a plan to deal with the court challenge to e-tolling if the application was successful.
However, Ndebele did say the people who were bringing the court application were “not mad people” and were raising serious concerns.
“Let us put them (the concerns) on the table and, given our limited room to manoeuvre and options, decide what we do. It’s not them and us.
“It is actually saying (acknowledging) that we have a problem on our hands and how do we deal with it,” he said. - Roy Cokayne