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E-toll delinking process far from over, alludes finance minister

The decision to delink was initially made public in 2022, that the much-unloved e-toll gantries would be unplugged and motorists would no longer be billed for using Gauteng highways.

The finance minister has alluded to the possibility that e-tolls will not likely be de-linked before April 2024 as announced by Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi recently.

The decision to delink was initially made public in 2022, that the much-unloved e-toll gantries would be unplugged and motorists no longer billed for using Gauteng highways.

 

On February 19, Lesufi in his State of the Province Address (SOPA) script at Nasrec, announced that a meeting with all affected parties was concluded and a delinking process would follow.

“We held a meeting with (finance minister Enoch) Godongwana; we also held a meeting with the (transport minister Sindisiwe) Chikunga. All of us now have reached an agreement that by March 31, this year, the formal process to switch off and de-link e-tolls will begin and e-tolls will be history in our province,” he said.

Godongwana however believes this process is far from the tail end saying he did not expect the gantries to cease operations by the end of March.

Godongwana made the remarks during a joint meeting with the standing committee on finance on February 22.

He said the agreed-upon 70/30 debt settlement arrangement with Gauteng was still on the cards.

“We had an agreement with the premier of Gauteng, which maintains that we [Treasury] will settle the debt 70/30 split.
We have made our commitments and given South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) money, however, Gauteng needs to give us money,” he said.

“The province also needs to answer the question of who is responsible for maintenance.

Unless an agreement is typed out, I cannot commit as to when the gantries will go.”

Godongwana said to his knowledge, the agreement still needed ironing out, while Gauteng also possibly needed to source funding, “if they do not have it available from their resources”.

He said without the funding, the business of delinking gantries could not proceed further.

“Once this is done, we can talk business. Unless these conditions are met, we cannot comment further on this issue.”

The scrapping of e-tolls has long been in the pipeline after Godongwana in his October 2022 budget speech said Gauteng had agreed to “contribute 30% to settling Sanral’s debt and interest obligations” related to the tolls.

He said Gauteng would cover the costs of maintaining the 201km and associated interchanges of the roads, while any additional investment would be funded through either the existing electronic toll infrastructure, new toll plazas or any other revenue source.

“Government proposes to make an initial allocation of R23.7-billion from the national fiscus, which will be disbursed on strict conditions.”

The e-toll fate has remained a mystery for years, however, the Gauteng government insists that scrapping is no bluff.

Chikunga told Newzroom Afrika that the e-tolls programme had been halted.

“What we are working on is to ensure we switch off the gantries for e-tolling purposes. We will be using the gantries for purposes such as crime prevention.”

She said Gauteng needed to figure out how it would maintain the large stretch of road as Sanral was not positioned to use its non-toll budget on tolled roads for maintenance.

Chikunga said this would have resulted in unfruitful and wasteful expenditure for Sanral.

“We are moving to switching off the gantries. Gauteng needs to find its 30% and National Treasury must locate 40% to pay off Sanral debt.”

Lesufi reiterated that “e-tolls are history. We will clear the confusion.”

 

“I am happy to report that on January 26, a final meeting was held between Gauteng and the ministers of finance and transport respectively. We have been able to find common ground on issues related to user pay principle quantum of Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) debt, quantum of sunken capex costs, capex obligation of the province, yearly maintenance costs of GFIP 1, repurposing of gantries, repayment of Sanral GFIP 1 debt and the future funding of GFIP 2 and 3.”

He said e-tolls were introduced in the province by the national government on the basis that “we wanted to improve our road network… We have now reached a stage where we all accept that the people of Gauteng have rejected e-tolls”.

Premier spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the intergovernmental discussions to end e-tolls were mainly centred on the payment of the existing e-toll debt and the switching off of the gantries.

“The matters discussed to end e-tolls were complex and legal and this means that they needed to be negotiated and involved a lot of complex negotiations.”

He said any other outstanding item would be discussed and a resolution found.

Gauteng in 2023, also orchestrated the use of the e-toll gantries in the fight against crime and Sanral offices as a licence renewal facility.

The project employed hi-tech face and car recognition tools and incorporated drones and panic buttons installed in the communities.

Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona earlier last year told Rekord that Sanral had been in discussions with Gauteng and the National Treasury.

Mona said however that Sanral could not confirm Gauteng’s plan as nothing was set in stone as yet.

“No agreement has been signed. We cannot confirm if the contents of a final service delivery agreement would allow for this [crime-fighting tool].”

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