Molefe Seeletsa

By Molefe Seeletsa

Digital Journalist

‘It’s not that simple’: Gauteng govt seeking loan to pay R12 billion for e-toll scrapping – Lesufi

'We are ready to start the de-gazetting process that will ensure that e-tolls are switched off.'

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi says the provincial government will borrow money to pay billions of e-toll debt to the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral).

The scrapping of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) electronic tolling gantries has been stalled over the past year as discussions between the provincial government and National Treasury over a funding impasse prolonged the matter.

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana previously announced during his Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in October 2022 that the Gauteng government had committed to pay R12.9 billion towards settling Sanral’s GFIP loan debt – which accounts for 30% of the total bill – while the National Treasury will foot the remaining 70% of R43 billion.

Since then, the e-tolling system has been operational much to the displeasure of motorists in Gauteng.

E-tolls scrapping stalled

Addressing the media on Tuesday after the delivery of Gauteng’s State of the Province Address (Sopa), Lesufi said the prolonged negotiations with Treasury on how to end the e-tolls was “intense” and “not easy”.

The premier indicated that when the provincial government initially approached Treasury, it explained that it was unreasonable for Gauteng residents to foot the bill for national roads.

He said the Gauteng government told Treasury it was prepared to get rid of e-tolls, however, there needed to be discussions on alternative funding for GFIP.

“Within that particular context, we needed to plan for the next phase because the current e-tolls is phase one so there is another phase that is coming so we can plan for phase two.

“The national government concurred, but unfortunately as time progressed there were changes of leadership in Treasury and the Transport Department,” Lesufi told reporters on Tuesday.

ALSO READ: Government delaying the scrapping of Gauteng e-tolls – Lesufi

Lesufi said Treasury had proposed for Gauteng to pay 60% of Sanral total debt, but rejected the suggestion because the provincial government would need to borrow funds.

While a 30-70% split agreement was later reached, problems arose about how the R12.9 billion should be paid.

“So Treasury said we are taking 30% in the next financial year… I mean if you take R12 billion from our budget, the Health [Department] will suffer, [and] the Education [Department] will suffer.

“That debate took long so we could not then start the process of removing the e-tolls until January this year. We met with the Minister of Transport and [Finance] and said this is how we want to repay the R12 billion [rather than taking the funds] from our budget,” he explained.

Gauteng to borrow funds

The premier said the Gauteng government informed Treasury that it would approach “financial institutions” that will be willing to loan them money.

“We reached an agreement and on the basis of that agreement, we made the announcement that we made yesterday,” he said.

Lesufi announced in his Sopa speech on Monday that the formal process to switch off and delink e-tolls would commence on 31 March.

READ MORE: End of e-tolls will ‘compel govt to establish alternative funding’ for freeway improvement project

However, the premier pointed out on Tuesday that a notice to switch off e-tolls would need to be gazetted before the actual switch-off taking place.

“I know people are impatient, we said would remove [e-tolls] and we haven’t.

“It’s not that simple so we need to satisfy the borrowing market, we need to agree on plans and we also need to agree on the law and where we are now I think we have cleared all those issues. We are ready to start the de-gazetting process that will ensure that e-tolls are switched off.”

Since inception on 3 December 2013, the gantries in the province have been recording e-toll bills.

Some motorists boycotted the tolling system, racking up bills running into thousands of Rands over the years. Many cited the poor state of alternative roads and an unreliable public transport system as reasons for non-payment.

Sopa clashes

Meanwhile, Lesufi took a swipe at opposition parties’ behaviour during Sopa.

“It is clear that members of the opposition have not gone through the speech and don’t understand the content; their level of thinking was way outside what we want and what we have delivered in the legislature.

“I must condemn the behaviour of some political parties in the House. We can’t tolerate people who, when we have got guests in the House, they feel they can undermine those guests,” he said.

WATCH: Water bottles fly as chaos erupts before Gauteng Sopa

Following a physical confrontation between members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) legislature and beneficiaries of the Nasi iSpani program, chaos ensued at the event held on Monday night at the Nasrec Expo Centre in the south of Johannesburg.

Chairs, water bottles, and other objects were thrown among guests during the tumultuous incident.

The EFF had contested the attendance of Gauteng Crime Prevention Wardens, also known as AmaPanyaza, in the auditorium.

Despite the clashes, Lesufi was able to start and conclude his address.

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