#Elections2019: E-tolls reversal is a ‘poll ploy’

Johannesburg – Sanral’s decision to suspend pursuing Gauteng’s e-toll defaulters is a “sweetener” by the ANC.

“The ANC is aware that it runs the risk of losing Gauteng,” said political analyst Ralph Mathekga on Friday.

“Both the DA and the EFF have used e-tolls to demonstrate that the ANC does not listen to people.

“There is no deep thinking in this matter. The ANC has made a lot of mistakes in Gauteng and they are hoping they can be forgiven for all their mistakes by removing e-tolls.”

After an urgent board meeting on Tuesday, Sanral made the decision to immediately suspend pursuing e-toll debt on Thursday.

This covers historic debt from as far back as 2015 and means that no new summonses will be applied for.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) said Sanral’s decision was a strategic move by the ruling party as elections loom.

“According to the Sanral board, they were acting on the initiative taken by President Cyril Ramaphosa to address the e-toll impasse,” said Rudie Heyneke, Outa’s transport portfolio manager.

“This implies they were acting on instruction/request/intervention from the president. In that sense it does look like an electioneering move.”

On Friday the DA accused the ANC of electioneering as well.

“This move proves once again that the e-toll system in Gauteng is not working and has never worked,” said the DA’s Solly Msimanga.

“It is clear that the ANC in Gauteng’s campaign has collapsed.”

The Department of Transport dismissed the claims.

“This is not an electioneering stance, but a position informed by the current intervention process led by the president to find a permanent solution to the challenges associated with the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Programme,” said spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi.

Sanral said the decision would be monitored and reviewed according to circumstances.

Motorists reportedly owe Sanral more than R10.9billion in unpaid e-toll fees.

“The decision is temporary and is aimed at affording the government an opportunity to embark on finding a policy solution on the matter,” a Sanral spokesperson said.

“Should circumstances unfold to return to the option of issuing summonses, the board will reinstate it.”

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Outa was surprised by the announcement.

“It surely looks like the end of e-tolls is on the horizon. But before anybody can celebrate it should be kept in mind that e-tolls will only be really scrapped when the decision to declare the GFIP freeway a toll road is reversed.

“Until then the e-toll sword will be hanging over our heads.”

Outa said Sanral had been forced to make the decision.

“It was reported that Sanral had obtained default judgments. Very soon after that it was said in the media that these default judgments will be used to blacklist defaulters.

“The Credit Bureau Association made it clear that no Sanral debt can be loaded against a consumer… That is the only thing left in Sanral’s arsenal. Neither Sanral nor the government could risk that people will lose their possessions just to have the right to drive on a specific road.”

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has come under fire for his instruction to Sanral to immediately reverse its decision to suspend e-toll debt collection.

This was a sign of confusion in the government, said Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage.

“This comment is a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.”

Cosatu also slammed Mboweni for his “ridiculous” comments.

“We are not surprised by his statements because he has been behaving like this since his appointment. Mboweni has a tsar complex without any impulse control. He cannot be allowed to issue instructions to Sanral and also behave like a free agent.”

But Mathekga understood Mboweni’s concerns.

“Tito is a finance minister. It’s understandable that he worries about anything that is going to affect the fiscus. Sanral has commitments on this investment. When Sanral says ‘we are not going to pay’, it means government will have to honour the guarantees.”

National Treasury said it was sticking to its guns.

“It’s a bad decision that should have not been taken. It’s not helpful in the bond market.

“They must reverse that decision immediately or else this has implications on the bond market, for the fiscus, for their own credit rating and the credit rating for the whole country,” a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson confirmed the Treasury had not met Sanral yet, and there were no meetings scheduled soon.

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