News | Opinion
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck. That piece of obvious logic has been
avoided for years by the government and those supporting the concept of e-tolls.
Paying money for the R20-billion Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project looks like a tax (citizens paying for national infrastructure) and it hurts as much as any other tax. So let’s call it what it is – a tax.
But for the government, the SA National Roads Agency and their apologists (mainly from the construction industry, greedy for similar projects in the future), this is not a tax, it is merely a type of “service charge”.
This is encapsulated in their justification phrase “user pays”. Seldom have these words been as abused as they have been over the whole issue not just of e-tolls but of what is, effectively, privatised national infrastructure.
The phrase was revived again by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in his budget speech last week when, referring to huge upcoming infrastructure projects, he said the efforts would be “wasted if the end-user does not pay a cost-reflective tariff for usage”.
Mboweni has long been a proponent of market force solutions and has, consequently, been praised by those with a capitalist outlook for his “prudent” approach to financial management.
However, the reality is that the government (and the previous National Party one) has twisted the toll road principles applied effectively in other countries – all in the name of benefitting the powerful construction lobby.
An example is the way the law on toll roads was changed to boost profits of the concessionaires: originally no toll road would be built without an alternative route. That no longer applies.
The government needs to realise we are already burdened with some of the highest taxes in the world. Another tax will be a gantry too far …
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