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JEREMY MAGGS: Let’s get straight to it and start with this. The South African National Roads Agency [Sanral] has reportedly extended its e-tolls collection contract until December. In early June, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse [Outa], raising alarm bells that another contract to extend collections might have already been signed, which has now been confirmed by Sanral. Let’s get a view from Outa and we talk to Wayne Duvenage. Wayne, welcome to you. So why do you think government has not officially ended e-tolls?
WAYNE DUVENAGE: I wish we knew, Jeremy. It just goes on and on and on. They’ve announced that the scheme is going to be financed through National Treasury allocations, 30% of it coming from the province’s allocations. That was done in October last year. They said it would end by December, the scheme would be scrapped, and here we sit now going to another year of perpetuating a scheme, which has failed.
They acknowledged that as far back as 2019, when Sanral decided they weren’t going to pursue collections through summonsing, it was their last resort of collections.
So why they continued to limp on with a scheme they’ve decided and reallocated funds to settle Sanral’s debt, I just don’t know.
Other than there’s still a small stream of revenue, about between R40 million and R50 million a month still coming into the ETC [Electronic Toll Collection], and I think people are making money out of this. There are contractors, there are catering contracts, there are IT contracts, there are security contracts. I just don’t know what is actually happening, but it doesn’t make sense.
JEREMY MAGGS: Have you engaged Sanral at all?
WAYNE DUVENAGE: We’ve been engaging with them for years and we get no answers and no responses. Now, until they do pull the plug, they’ve got to have a contract in place, and I think that Sanral is now waiting for the Minister of Finance [Enoch Godongwana] and Panyaza Lesufi [Premier of Gauteng], who are still trying to probably sort out how…
Look, the province was saying, well, we can’t really pay this off. They’re broke, they get 80%, 90% of their allocations anyway from National Treasury. So it really is swings and roundabouts here and they’re trying to find a solution to pay this off over a longer period of time. It just doesn’t make sense.
Government passes the e-toll ‘hot potato’ to Gauteng government [Oct 2022]
Sanral yet to receive any ‘firm instruction’ on e-toll refunds [Jan 2023]
To me, it’s ineptitude, it’s an inability to implement a decision that’s already been made. We see this often in government where they make a lot of good statements, but they just cannot implement.
JEREMY MAGGS: There’s one view that says the proposal is just a tactic now to gain attention before the elections and to hang on that revenue, particularly as far as the suggestion from the Gauteng Premier is concerned about a refund to people who’d actually paid the debt.
WAYNE DUVENAGE: Ja, look, I would be surprised if they’re using that as an election ploy. I don’t think that people are going to fall for it. Can you imagine just before 2024 elections, hey, the ruling party has decided to end e-tolls, the backlash will be you’ve decided that a number of times, you just haven’t been able to implement it.
Now, this issue around refunding is a concern because we don’t know where they’re going to get the money from, and Sanral is the company that has to do that, not government.
So it’s going to be interesting if they can afford it and can actually do it.
JEREMY MAGGS: So what role do you see your organisation playing, if at all, in trying to resolve this situation? Where are you applying pressure now?
WAYNE DUVENAGE: Well, we’ve been applying pressure all the time. We are setting up another meeting with the new CEO [Reginald Demana], who’s been in office since the beginning of the year, just to find out where exactly we are. We’ve put pressure on Panyaza Lesufi. We’ve asked to actually meet with him to just understand what exactly is the stumbling block here, but he doesn’t like to meet with his critics. So we pushed that to one side.
We’ve written to them, we’ve given them advice, we gave them all our input when they asked us years ago as to what are the alternatives to e-tolling, all the research, we’ve done so much and we’re defending anybody who gets a summons for non-payment of e-tolls. Now, our latest request is to the 10% or so of people who are still paying, largely the fleet companies, car rental and so on, do the country a favour – because they can’t go after them, there’s no recourse that the government has – do the country a favour and end it earlier by stopping to pay because they continue to pay even though there’s no consequences for them to pay.
Read: What will replace e-tolls?
Sometimes you’re a business in society, which society and the individuals largely have done, you need to force the issue. You need to force government’s hand in order to implement the policy that they themselves have decided to implement but procrastinate to do so. So it’s over to business now.
Not even the government departments, Jeremy, are paying and they’re supposed to pay, not even they are paying. So business doesn’t have to have this fear that if we don’t pay, they’re going to come and audit us and put us under pressure. The simple answer for business to government is to say, but your own government departments aren’t paying. Why should we?
JEREMY MAGGS: I find it very odd that summonses are still being issued.
WAYNE DUVENAGE: Well, they stopped in 2019, but the threat is still there. It’s possible, it is their only recourse. They cannot blacklist, they cannot withhold your driver’s licence, vehicle licences, they tried all of those threats, even criminal records. We fought every single one of those and showed the public that they are misleading the public.
Read: Sanral considers new tolls
The last resort is they did start summonsing thousands of motorists and we got mandates from most of them to defend them in court. We were on our way to court with a test case against them in 2019 when I think the national elections were looming and they got a tap on the shoulder, we don’t know this, but this is what we presume, by the powers that be to say, this war with your citizens is not the best thing to have in election time, stop the summonsing. In March 2019 they announced, we’re not going to summons anymore.
JEREMY MAGGS: Wayne, I know that you’ve got time pressures, but very quickly the numbers, if you don’t mind, you say income at around R40 million, R50 million a month; what is it still costing to run the entire infrastructure?
WAYNE DUVENAGE: It’s costing them around about that, if not more. You remember, initially they were supposed to get R250 million to R300 million a month from motorists to make the scheme work. We said that was overpriced because about a billion rand out of that R3 billion or so a year was going to go to…traffic, around 30%, and the administration cost of these schemes around the world don’t cost more than 10%.
Read: Outa wants clarity on Sanral’s debt before bailout is finalised
So it was a moneymaking scheme and we’ve since found out that the contracts were signed for R9.8 billion for five years when they actually told the public and Premier David Makhura at the time that ETC won that contract at about R6.4 billion. So there’s a lot of unanswered questions around why these contracts were inflated. To us, those are the pure signs of corruption.
JEREMY MAGGS: Wayne Duvenage, thank you very much indeed.