Anti e-toll group the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) said on Monday that it has “plenty of evidence” indicating the Gauteng tolling equipment is unreliable. This comes after roads agency Sanral warned high value corporate e-toll defaulters on Monday that they would be issued summonses this week.
It announced that the first set of civil summonses to individuals is being delivered by sheriffs in different jurisdictions in Gauteng. “The summonses will also include higher value summonses of mostly companies. Due to the amount owed in these cases, the summons has to be managed by the High Court,” said Alex van Niekerk, project manager for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.
However, Wayne Duvenage, chairperson of the Outa, said there can be no consensus for e-toll defaulters. “The fact that Sanral have determined the liability of the user in terms of their equipment that has not been approved, verified, certified and re-certified in South Africa in accordance with South African legislation, generates additional complications to Sanral’s case,” he said. “Outa has plenty of evidence indicating the equipment is unreliable.” Duvenage said the companies and people who may be at risk of a summons are those who have signed Sanral’s e-toll contracts in the past and have now defaulted on these.
“However, even in this situation, we know that many businesses would have initially signed these agreements under duress of Sanral’s initial threats of criminal prosecution and they will have a strong chance to defend their their rights of ceasing to pay for the unjust e-toll scheme.”
“We know of many businesses and individuals who have paid up and cancelled their agreements with Sanral and by doing so, have joined the other 80% to 90% of the road-users who are not paying,” said Duvenage.
“We estimate that between 60 and 70% of all Gauteng road-users have never signed up or ever paid. They have very valid arguments to defend themselves and we believe are not at risk.” The decision to issue summonses comes at the end of an extensive period of communications between Sanral and vehicle owners who neglected to pay outstanding debts, Sanral said. Since the introduction of the 60% discount of e-toll debt in November 2015, Sanral said it made it quite clear it will also introduce a process of debt collection against serial defaulters.
Sanral said the Electronic Toll Collection company (ETC) who run the system on behalf of Sanral have reiterated and amplified this, not only through the media but also directly to individuals through phone calls, e-mails and SMS messages. A civil summons must not be confused with criminal proceedings, Sanral said. “It is similar to not have paying any commercial accounts and should not be confused with a criminal case.”
South Africa will review the payment options recommended to finance the upgrade of highways in Gauteng province after opposition from unions and motorists.
A report, released today by Premier David Makhura, found that in its current form the e-toll system is not affordable and places a burden on middle-to-low income households. “The primary recommendation is that the current system must be reviewed on equity, sustainability and affordability,” Makhura told reporters in Johannesburg.
The South African National Roads Agency SOC Ltd. has at least 33.1 billion rand ($2.9 billion) of principal debt outstanding, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Its projects include the improvement of highways in Gauteng, the nation’s most populous province that includes Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria. As much as 60 percent is backed by the government.
An electronic tolling system, which operates under a “user pay” principle, was implemented in December 2013 and has been opposed by labor unions, car rental companies and motorists who refuse to pay, with some burning e-toll tracker tags in protest.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is leading the national government’s participation in the consultations with other stakeholders, according to Makhura.
“Consultations into the recommendations and looking into a funding model that is affordable, sustainable and equitable will be finalized in February,” Makhura said. “As we are finding appropriate responses to the issues that were raised on the e-tolls, which have been identified as valid, people must continue paying their e-tolls.”
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