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E-tolls: Outa has ‘enough’ funds to defend members

3 000 e-toll summonses at Sheriff, ready for delivery – Sanral.

In the above video Director of Legal Affairs at Outa Ivan Herselman on defending Outa’s members.

Organisation Uniting Against Tax Abuse (Outa) says it has enough money to assist its members who are served a summons for outstanding e-tolls.

Outa chairman Wayne Duvenhage said at a media briefing on Thursday that Outa gets contributions from “thousands of people” and “hundreds of businesses” every month and has set money aside for e-toll litigation.

He would however not disclose the amount, because he fears the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral), fighting with taxpayers’ money, would stretch out the legal process in an effort to deplete Outa’s funds, Duvenhage said.

If the fund proves to be insufficient, Outa will approach the public for further contributions, he said.

Duvenhage’s statements come as Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona confirmed to Moneyweb that the agency has prepared 4 653 magistrate court summonses for outstanding e-toll bills and by April 6 2016, 2 790 had been delivered to the Sheriff for serving. “We have also 332 high court summonses of which 120 have been delivered to the Sheriff for serving – also by April 6 2016,” Mona said.

The agency offers 60% discount on huge outstanding amounts that resulted from punitive tariffs, but the offer expires on May 2.

Outa has recently stretched its wings from only opposing e-tolls to fighting what it sees as tax abuse on many fronts, including energy. It recently applied unsuccessfully for an interdict to suspend the implementation of Eskom’s 9.4% tariff increase on April 1, but will proceed with a review application in June aimed at having the increase set aside.

Duvenhage said contributions to Outa are currently not ring-fenced for each issue the organisation takes up, unless members ask for their contribution to be used exclusively for a specific purpose. Contributions could therefore be, generally speaking, used for operational costs, litigation against e-tolls or the country’s nuclear programme, or any matter Outa’s board feels should be addressed.

He said members would in future be given the option to indicate which specific causes they financially support.

Duvenhage said Outa is in good shape. It has 14 permanent staff members and has built internal legal expertise. It also has lawyers who are ready to defend Outa members pro bono.

He said as a result, defending its members in e-toll cases should cost less than its previous e-toll court battles.

Duvenhage took issue with Sanral CEO Nazir Alli’s implication that Outa’s attacks on Sanral are based on racism. He said Alli’s statements are “very concerning”. Outa has no ambition to create disharmony in the country. It promotes lawful, transparent and cooperative governance by State institutions and encourages people to stand up for their rights against bullying by the State and State-owned entities, he said.

Duvenhage said Outa does not encourage members to act unlawfully. It will argue in court that the administrative decision to declare the Gauteng freeways as toll roads is flawed due to a lack of proper public consultation and that the enforcement of e-tolls based on the flawed decision is therefore unlawful.

The Constitutional Court dismissed Outa’s previous direct attack on the validity of the tolling decision, because the organisation brought the challenge outside the 180-day limit after the decision was made.

That time limit is however not applicable when the argument is raised in defence of efforts to enforce the decision, Outa’s director of legal services Ivan Herselman said.

Legal expert Professor Marinus Wiechers confirmed to Moneyweb that this approach could have merits.

Duvenhage said there are also other possible grounds to fight e-toll enforcement, including the reliability of Sanral’s equipment, inaccurate data Sanral uses from the electronic national administration traffic information system (eNatis), reliance on the under-performing Post Office – that might have prejudiced road users administratively – and Sanral’s cumbersome dispute resolution process.

He repeated Outa’s contention that Sanral overpaid for the Gauteng freeway construction by 321% in spite of Sanral’s earlier attack on its report about the issue and said the report will shortly be updated with further evidence that paints an even darker picture.

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