Motorists could pay up to R3.65 extra for petrol should the fuel levy replace e-tolling on Gauteng highways‚ Transport Minister Dipuo Peters said on Tuesday.
Ring-fencing the fuel levy has been punted as an option to replace electronic tolls by political parties including the African National Congress (ANC) in Gauteng‚ in submissions to a provincial review panel put in place by Gauteng Premier David Makhura.
In her submission to the panel on Tuesday Ms Peters admitted that e-tolls were not “ideal” but warned of the consequences of scrapping the system on the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) and SA’s sovereign ratings.
Her appearance before the panel came despite her having criticised it when it was formed. On Tuesday‚ she said she wanted to “correct misinformation” about the toll system.
“I hope that if you take the option of the fuel levy you are cautious of the R3.65‚ because if that is the route to go‚ we would need you to go out and mobilise South Africans to pay R3.65 per litre‚” she said at the conclusion of a session in which she faced a grilling by panellists.
Ms Peters said Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene had indicated there was no money available: the Treasury is due to make its submission to the panel on Wednesday. “If we are to go and engage Treasury with regard to this matter the issue will always be‚ is there additional money and where does that additional money come from?” Mr Peters said.
She was adamant the government could not use the fuel levy as an alternative for a mere 201km of roads in Gauteng. It had to consider the total R197bn backlog of road infrastructure across SA. Department of Transport acting director-general Mawethu Vilana described e-tolls as “pro-poor” and “progressive”.
In his presentation to the panel he quoted the provincial department’s reports which said that the fuel levy was not an “equitable solution” as the rest of the country would have to fund Gauteng’s infrastructure.
Also‚ the fuel levy did not factor in congestion and environmental impact. Congestion alone‚ he argued‚ would result in a loss of R155bn in revenue to the province between 2004 and 2015‚ citing a Gauteng report.
Mr Vilana and Ms Peters sought to dispel the “lie” that Sanral was “milking” commuters‚ saying it merely implemented government policy and did not make a profit.
Ms Peters sought to show that funding public infrastructure‚ roads in particular‚ was a big challenge for the government. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was convening a “platform” of ministers responsible for e-tolls to look at “this particular matter”.
Ms Peters said she did not know why the Gauteng government had changed its approach to e-tolls‚ after the idea originated in the province.
“For 15 of the 20 years of this government‚ (ANC provincial chairman and former Gauteng premier Paul) Mashatile was part of the executive council in Gauteng‚ and for five of the 20 years‚ he was part of the national cabinet…. Where the change of heart came from I would not know.”
Mr Mashatile acknowledged in his submission last month that the idea had originated in the provincial government but said it was implemented differently to what was envisioned. Ms Peters said: ”. .. what cannot be disputed is that credit for the concepts of open-road tolling and electronic tolling must be shared with the Gauteng province”‚ quoting from a 1996 report by the provincial government that mooted tolling and electronic tolling‚ and which was implemented in December.
Mr Mashatile and the ANC in Gauteng are now in a difficult position — it believes that e-tolls contributed to its decline in electoral support in the May polls.
Ms Peters also told the panel that the decision to implement e-tolls was a legal one‚ confirmed by six courts and 17 judges.