E-tolls on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) appear set to be part of the lives of motorists for another year – unless the government finally takes a decision to scrap the controversial scheme.
This follows SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) engineering executive Louw Kannemeyer confirming to Moneyweb on Tuesday that the contract awarded to Electronic Toll Collections (ETC) for the management and collection of e-tolls has been extended by a further year until December 2, 2021.
“This will bring the contract to the maximum eight-year period, as was allowed for in the original contract, or shorter if the new contractor is appointed before the end of the maximum period allowed,” he said.
Kannemeyer added that ETC’s original approved contract value has not increased due to the extension because the original contract did make provision for a two-year contract extension.
However, Sanral’s comments are at odds with the views of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).
Outa executive director Advocate Stefanie Fick said on Tuesday that Sanral is legally obliged to halt its contract with ETC for the management of e-tolls today (December 2, 2020).
Fick said Sanral’s e-toll collection contract that was awarded to ETC in 2013 was supposed to end on December 2, 2018 but was extended to December 2020.
Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage stressed that the contract only allowed for a two-year extension and is puzzled as to where Sanral has found “the extra year”.
Fick added that the extended contract cannot legally be extended again after the two single-year extensions to the contract since December 2018.
“This means that Sanral should in law be unable to collect e-tolls until a legal fight over the tender process for a new contract is finalised,” she said.
Kannemeyer’s reference to “the new contractor” and Outa’s comments about a legal fight over the tender process relate to Sanral reissuing the tender for the continued management of e-tolls, which it cancelled in March 2020.
Moneyweb reported in September that Kusa Kokutsha, whose bid for the cancelled Sanral tender for the continued management of e-tolls was R4.5 billion cheaper than the second bidder, had lodged a high court application to review the cancellation of the tender.
Kusa Kokutsha company secretary Dawid Claassen confirmed at the time that the company had also launched high court interdict proceedings to stop the reissued tender process.
The company is seeking the substitution of the tender cancellation decision with an order directing Sanral to award the tender to Kusa Kokutsha.
Claassen added that in the face of the interdict proceedings, Sanral gave a written undertaking to Kusa Kokutsha on August 11 not to determine the reissued tender until after judgment has been given in the review proceedings.
Outa previously highlighted that Kusa Kokutsha is largely the current ETC joint venture consortium in another guise and was registered as a business only after the tender was first advertised.
Kannemeyer confirmed on Tuesday that the matter was heard last month but the reissued tender “cannot be processed at this moment in time as Sanral awaits the outcome of the litigation process”.
“There has been no ruling yet,” he said.
Outa said the Pretoria High Court in August dismissed Kusa Kokutsha’s application for an urgent interim interdict to stop the award of the reissued tender, adding that the court heard that Sanral had been due to award the new e-toll contract on December 2 but undertook not to award it pending the outcome of the review application.
Kannemeyer said Sanral has also not been informed of any decision by the government on the future of e-tolls.
“A decision on the future of e-tolls will be communicated by cabinet,” he said.
Duvenage said this entire e-toll debacle has been an embarrassment for Sanral since its inception over a decade ago.
“To date no one has been held accountable for obvious corruption and gross waste of money that has unfolded throughout this saga,” Duvenage said.
Duvenage said Gauteng motorists and Sanral are still waiting for a long-promised cabinet decision on the future of e-tolls.
He said President Cyril Ramaphosa in July 2019 instructed Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Gauteng Premier David Makhura to resolve the e-toll impasse to allow cabinet to make a decision on funding the Gauteng freeways but a decision has never been announced.
Duvenage said this makes the awarding of a new e-tolls collection contract “financially risky”.