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By Roy Cokayne

Moneyweb: Freelance journalist

E-tag credits now exclusively for toll plazas, not debt repayment

Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage said on Tuesday it is good that Sanral is encouraging people to use e-tags.

Motorists can now recharge their e-tags and use them at “boom down” toll plazas without the credit in their e-tags being used to pay off their historic Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) e-toll debt.

This was confirmed this week by South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) GM for communications and marketing Vusi Mona in response to a Moneyweb query after the roads agency urged motorists to use their e-tags at “boom down” toll plazas across the country because this remains the smartest payment method for road users.

Mona said the government has yet to finalise the decision on the historic e-tolls debt of road users, and as such, this debt has been ring-fenced.

ALSO READ: EFF slams ANC ‘fake victory’ over e-tolls

“Sanral is not in a position to comment on any debt-related matter at this time.

“The e-tags were de-linked from Open Road Tolling at midnight on 12 April 2024.

“Liability for payment of e-toll transactions up to this date remained for a period of 30 days up to 12 May 2024.

“Since the lapse of the 30-day period on 12 May 2024, all funds loaded onto the e-tag account are only used for transactions at boom down toll plazas across the country or the payment of parking, where the user has opted in for that.

ALSO READ: E-tolls scrapped, but gantries will remain operational – Chikunga

“No historic e-toll debt is being offset against these funds,” he said.

Mona added that the interoperability of e-tags at all Sanral toll plazas across the country is just another way to ensure hassle-free travel and uninterrupted mobility.

E-toll debt

Sanral said the historic GFIP e-toll debt totalled almost R43 billion shortly before the gantries for the controversial system were switched off.

However, Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana said in his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) speech in October 2022 that Sanral’s GFIP debt was R47 billion.

NOW READ: ‘No refunds’ says Lesufi – Motorists must pay outstanding e-tolls debts

Godongwana also announced that to resolve the GFIP funding impasse, the Gauteng provincial government had agreed to contribute 30% to settling Sanral’s debt and interest obligations, while the national government covered 70% of this debt and interest obligation.

Gauteng Finance MEC Jacob Mamabolo confirmed to Moneyweb in March this year that the provincial government had reached an agreement with the Sanral on the payment of R4.1 billion towards the GFIP maintenance backlog over four years.

However, Mamabolo indicated that the province’s payment of its 30% portion of Sanral’s GFIP debt and interest obligations, which amounts to R12.9 billion, would be left for the new Gauteng administration to finalise after the 29 May 2024 general election.

Mamabolo said Gauteng has approached financial institutions to raise the money required to honour its contractual obligations.

ALSO READ: Government listened to public over e-tolls – Chikunga

A list of questions about the historic GFIP e-toll debt was emailed to National Treasury, but a response has not yet been received.

This article will be updated once a response is received.

A ‘good’ move

Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) CEO Wayne Duvenage said on Tuesday it is good that Sanral is encouraging people to use e-tags and move more and more to electronic tolling at toll plazas.

Duvenage believes Sanral is possibly getting ready to take over these “build, operate, transfer” toll roads, which should happen in the next five years on some of them, to reduce the manpower costs at those toll plazas and speed up the traffic flow.

“We are not opposed to technology when it makes sense and it’s enforceable,” he said.

Almost two months have now passed since e-tolls were scrapped, but it is still unclear how, if, and when the government plans to collect the e-toll debt.

Duvenage said on Tuesday he did not know how the Gauteng province could try to collect the GFIP debt from motorists because Sanral is the only entity that can collect that debt.

ALSO READ: E-toll debt collection from motorists still on the agenda

He also did not know how Gauteng would be able to pass on the cost to the citizens of Gauteng “because you don’t get a bill from the Gauteng Province”.

“Gauteng gets 90% of its revenue from Treasury itself, so it’s like one hand passing the money to them and taking some of it back,” he said.

Duvenage said Sanral would have to be instructed to collect the outstanding billions of rand owed by motorists who have not paid their e-toll accounts.

“But the only way Sanral can do that is to summons motorists and we have a [test] case that is pending and they [Sanral] have made it very clear that they do not want to enter into a litigious lawfare strategy with the public.

“They [Sanral] have been there, they have done that, it didn’t work. It’s not good for government to be at war with its citizens,” he said.

Lack of understanding about debt

Duvenage also believes there is a lack of clear understanding between Sanral, the National Treasury and the Department of Transport about what this debt is.

“You have got the bond debt, the backlog maintenance debt and the e-toll debt from the motorists. What are we actually talking about and what mechanisms are available to actually collect this debt,” he asked.

Duvenage further questioned how government could come after motorists for their e-toll debt when that person has never been invoiced, which means there is no debt they can collect.

ALSO READ: Government listened to public over e-tolls – Chikunga

“I don’t know what is so difficult about them [government] realising that they are never going to get that debt. Make that decision and let’s move on,” he said.

Duvenage maintained that government will be “double dipping or almost triple dipping” if it wants to get the province to pay again for the GFIP and then get the motorists to also pay their e-toll debt.

“It’s been paid for and they should no longer pursue this,” he said.

Gauteng has paid for roads

Duvenage said the National Treasury has already been giving Sanral billions of rands since 2012 when it realised the GFIP and e-tolls were a problematic situation.

He said these allocations must have totalled R20 billion, adding that 35% of the fuel levies received by the National Treasury are from Gauteng.

Duvenage said Gauteng has, therefore, “paid and contributed to those roads”, and Gauteng and the Western Cape are the only two cash-positive provinces.

“The motorists’ debt to Sanral for the use of tolls that haven’t been paid is done and dusted. That horse has bolted. Most of it has prescribed.

“Sanral stopped the litigation process in March 2019 and five years has gone.

“It’s ludicrous and it’s outrageous and is just a waste of time to try and collect that money,” he said.

Motorists still obligated to pay debt

Former transport minister Sindisiwe Chikunga said on the eve of e-tolls being switched off that the government is still discussing the historical e-toll debt owed by motorists.

However, Chikunga said that in terms of the law, motorists are still obligated to pay this debt, but how the government enforces that payment “is a matter that has not been discussed, and we are attending to that as time goes on”.

ALSO READ: National Treasury goes for broke on e-tolls

A Sanral “Frequently Asked Questions” document released when e-tolls on the GFIP were scrapped insisted that motorists still needed to pay their outstanding e-toll fees despite the decision to scrap the GFIP e-toll system.

“As the implementing authority and in terms of Treasury Regulations, Sanral has an obligation to take effective and appropriate steps to collect all money due to it. Until advised otherwise, this remains the Sanral position.”

This article was republished from Moneyweb. Read the original here

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