The SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) has lashed out at its detractors, including the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), claiming national efforts to secure funding for the maintenance of South Africa’s high-quality road network are being undermined by narrow-minded groups that encourage people to break the law.
Skhumbuzo Macozoma, CEO of Sanral, stressed it’s time that government and the citizens of South Africa hold Outa to account for the civil disobedience campaigns that are contributing to the long-term destruction of critical road infrastructure.
Macozoma said it’s outrageous that an organisation such as Outa can criticise a decision by the New Development Bank (NDB) to extend a R7 billion loan for road infrastructure development projects.
“Outa’s malicious actions are designed to destroy Sanral and deprive South African citizens of world-class national road infrastructure,” he said.
Wayne Duvenage, CEO of Outa, said the organisation finds it “quite amusing” that Macozoma has blamed it for Sanral’s dire financial situation.
“The problem with Sanral is their continuous lack of transparency to enable the public – who are ultimately going to pay for Sanral’s loans – to clearly understand what this latest R7 billion loan is being borrowed for.”
Sanral’s attack on Outa was sparked by the organisation expressing concern that Sanral has taken out another R7 billion loan, thereby entrenching itself deeper in debt, when the agency already has “a sizeable interest-bearing debt of R47 billion”.
Macozoma said Sanral is doing its best in tough economic conditions and unfavourable bond markets to secure funding for road development.
Macozoma said the loan from the NDB shows international confidence in Sanral’s capabilities, despite the destructive comments from Outa.
He said Outa and other special interest groups have led an ‘illegal’ civil disobedience campaign to encourage citizens not to comply with their legal obligations to pay e-tolls. “It is thanks to them the level of non-compliance on the network is low and the much-needed extension of the Gauteng freeway network cannot proceed.”
However, the results of research conducted by the Automobile Association (AA) released last month revealed that more than 52% of motorists indicated there was nothing government could do to convince them to start paying their e-tolls on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), with 78.4% of motorists citing government corruption as the reason for deciding not to pay their e-tolls.
President Cyril Ramaphosa established a task team led by Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula that had to report to him by the end of last month on the options regarding e-tolls.
Macozoma said the funds from the NDB will enable Sanral to bring forward much-needed improvements to toll road infrastructure across the country, which were delayed because of the declining income for the GFIP.
He said Sanral continues to look for more funding options to address the backlog of R140 billion in toll roads projects that are currently without funding.
Duvenage said what the public requires is transparency on why the NDB loan was needed, especially in light of the fact that the NDB statement said this funding is being applied to the National Toll Roads Strengthening and Improvement Programme.
“As far as we are concerned, funding for tolled roads comes from the collection of tolls on those road networks and we would like to know if this funding is going toward the GFIP bonds (for e-tolled roads) or other Sanral-managed toll roads that are supposed to be self-funding.
“We don’t believe these funds are being allocated to the concessionaire tolled routes (N3TC, Bakwena and TRAC) and would be extremely concerned if this was the case,” he said.
Duvenage added that the NDB statement on the Sanral loan states that the scope of the project includes rehabilitation of the pavement for the existing toll sections of national roads, construction of additional lanes to widen such roads, and rehabilitation of related infrastructure, such as bridges and intersections.
He said this indicates that some of the funding may be for routine maintenance of existing toll roads, which Outa believes should be covered by the existing toll collections.
But Macozoma said Outa has through its statements once again demonstrated its very poor knowledge of toll road management and road network management in general.
Macozoma said Outa fails to understand that toll schemes are financed through upfront capital that is mobilised from investors for road road improvements and are then funded through road user charges over the lifetime of a road.
“To argue that users are paying toll fees and that Sanral should not be borrowing further funds is evidence of a lack of knowledge by an organisation that has its own questionable track record on governance and financial issues,” he said.
Sanral last month reported it would issue major road construction tenders to the value of more than R40 billion to the construction sector, over the next two to three years and announced last week that it would put out to tender contracts worth billions of rands for the upgrading of the N2 and N3 “over the ensuing weeks”.
Tenders include the upgrading of the N2 from Kwamashu Interchange to Mhloti Interchange, upgrading of the N3 from Cato Ridge to Dardanells and from Dardanells to Lynnfield Interchange.