Ndebele adamant tolls will go ahead
TRANSPORT Minister S'bu Ndebele has stuck to his guns on the Gauteng e-tolls, telling Parliament that the implementation of the tariffs has reached the point of no return.
Presenting his R39-billion departmental budget for the next financial year in the National Assembly, Ndebele claimed that the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project has received the support of most users.
But opposition parties such as the DA, COPE and the ACDP slammed the toll system, with some branding it the most "expensive in the world".
Ndebele said the large majority of an estimated 800,000 regular users of Gauteng freeways have given the e-tolls the thumbs up by acquiring their e-tags.
"We are therefore encouraged that 501,245 e-tags have so far been sold and distributed to regular users of this road network, a clear indication that people are cooperating with us," he said amid a court battle by various lobby groups to prevent the implementation of the Gauteng tolls, which are scheduled for April 30.
But opposition MPs were not persuaded, with the DA's Ian Ollis leading the charge. "What we have been forced into is the world's most expensive toll collection system. It will cost over R1-billion per annum to just collect the fees.
"That money will not go to upgrade highways but to the company that won the tender," said Ollis, adding that it would cost only R4-million a year to administers a "small fuel levy" hike instead of the "expensive" tolls.
The ACDP's Steve Swart weighed in, saying his party was opposed to the tolling of suburban roads in view of rising petrol prices. He said the government should have thought of the high cost of the tolls before it entered into the project.
"This tolling project will be imposing an indirect cost on the economy via the associated strikes and will impose a direct cost by directly increasing transport costs," he said.
But Ndebele hit back by insisting that there was no way the government could do away with the e-tolls, calling them "our problem".
"Who is going to say which road do you want stopped? Which project do you want stopped because you've got R20-billion to pay. The road is there, you can't roll it away like a carpet."
Ndebele argued that the toll fees had to be enforced so as to allow the South African National Roads Agency Limited to pay off its loan of R20-billion, which was used to finance the rejuvenation of highways around Pretoria and Johannesburg in the past two years.
He said a failure to service debt, which could skyrocket to R32-billion due to interest in the near future, could compromise the country's credit rating.