Mbalula has balancing act over e-tolls

Minister Fikile Mbalula.
Minister Fikile Mbalula.
Image: Sunday Times

As the controversy over e-tolls in Gauteng rages, transport minister Fikile Mbalula has told MPs that national roads agency Sanral is due to spend R25bn this year to expand the national roads network.

Mbalula made the announcement in parliament during a debate on his department's budget of R64bn for the 2019/2020 financial year.

Mbalula said an amount of R13bn had been exclusively set aside for road maintenance across the country, with "large projects" in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.

"These include the N3 between Umsunduzi and eThekwini in Durban, the N2 wild coast in the Eastern Cape and Moloto Road in Limpopo, together with social infrastructure in the Eastern Cape, KZN, Mpumalanga and North West.

"Our target through these projects is to create 20,000 full-time jobs over the next three to five years," he said.

But when it came to addressing the issue of e-tolls, Mbalula was thin on detail, only telling MPs that he, Gauteng premier David Makhura and finance minister Tito Mboweni were "seized with the process to find a lasting solution to the demand to scrap e-tolls in Gauteng" as part of a task team instituted by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Makhura and Mboweni were embroiled in a social media spat this past weekend over the scrapping of e-tolls, leading to Ramaphosa publicly calling them to order.

Makhura and the Gauteng ANC want national government to scrap e-tolls but Mboweni argues otherwise, saying government had an obligation to collect toll fees from motorists to service the R67bn debt it incurred during the roll- out of the Gauteng Freeways Improvement Project.

"We're mindful of the demand to scrap e-tolls and are therefore looking at solutions that will balance this demand with the need for the country to honour its obligation in so far as the e-toll debt is concerned. This is the reality that we must all be alive to," said Mbalula.

Turning to the troubled commuter rail agency Prasa, Mbalula said he had set up a war room to deal with its problems which ranged from vandalism, poor rail signalling, late train arrivals and safety issues.

He said this war room would also address the loss of engineering skills at Prasa and stop the practice of rotating the same people from one board to the next within entities of his department.

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