If Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula is to be believed, Gauteng motorists will finally be informed of the government’s decision on the future of the controversial e-toll system within the next two weeks.
Mbalula said the Department of Transport is engaging with National Treasury on the issue “and we are at the tail end of our processes”.
“The decision is on the table,” he told the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) last week (May 6).
“We expect that in the next two weeks we should be back to cabinet. Before we [Department of Transport] table our budget vote speech, we should have gone to you [NCOP] and the public to announce the cabinet decision on the e-tolls.
“It has taken long. We thought by now we would have finalised it. Unfortunately, it’s a big decision. We are not working alone. We go back and forth with Treasury on these issues and that is how it is. We have to finalise this decision in the next two weeks,” he said.
However, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) is unconvinced by Mbalula’s latest statement on the e-tolls announcement.
“We don’t believe him anymore,” said Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage.
“The trust deficit is so wide that every time they say within this period or by that date they are going to make an announcement, they miss it. They’ve missed it umpteen times,” he said.
Duvenage added that Outa believes that when Mbalula makes a statement like this on e-tolls, he “realises he has become a laughing stock and will make sure this time it’s right”.
“We are looking forward to a decision but wouldn’t be surprised if he misses it again because of the history of this issue,” he said.
An ‘ill-advised, poorly planned economic disaster’
Mbalula had been responding to Dennis Ryder, a Democratic Alliance MP and member of the NCOP, who said there is supposed to be a resolution to the e-toll impasse and Mbalula has missed many deadlines.
“The cost of running the system continues to grow and now bizarrely you [Mbalula] announced increases to e-tolls effective from March 1 this year,” said Ryder.
“The collection rate has been dismal all along but with Covid-19 it’s got even worse. The negative impacts on the Gauteng economy from e-tolls is really devastating to many small businesses that are struggling to recover from the effects of the lockdown and Covid-19 generally.
“When the economy has become so precarious in post-lockdown South Africa, you continue to dither around this matter and seem unable to make a decision.
“When will this ill-advised, poorly planned economic disaster come to an end or are you determined to add misery to the lives of commuters slowly recovering from the ravages of Covid-19?” he asked.
The long-outstanding decision on the future of e-tolls dates back to July 2019 when President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Mbalula to head a task team, which included Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Gauteng Premier David Makhura, to report by August 2019 on the options available for the future of e-tolls.
The appointment of this task team was prompted by staunch public resistance to e-tolls and the low payment compliance rate, which was then below 19%.
Since then a litany of false promises has been made by Mbalula and other government officials about an announcement on the future of e-tolls.
November 2019: Mbalula confirms that a cabinet decision on the controversial scheme will be taken in the next two weeks.
December 2019: The late Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu promises during a post-cabinet meeting media briefing that a decision on the future of e-tolls will be taken in the first cabinet meeting in 2020.
March 2020: Mthembu gives an assurance that e-tolls will be discussed by cabinet.
February 2021: Mbalula states during a question and answer session in parliament on the State of the Nation Address that the government is expected to announce a decision on e-tolls in March 2021.
March 2021: Mbalula repeats at a Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa event that the government’s decision on the future of e-tolls will be announced that month.
May 6, 2021: Mbalula tells the NCOP the cabinet will take a decision on the future of e-tolls in the next two weeks.