The South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) have been accused of using fear tactics to force motorists to pay their outstanding e-toll bills. This after weekend reports which highlighted claims by Sanral that it will now block car licence renewals for motorists who don’t pay for the controversial tolling scheme. Justice Project South Africa chairperson Howard Dembovsky however said that the threat was hardly a new tactic.
According to Dembovsky, Sanral has threatened to withhold licence renewals since the onset of e-tolling in Gauteng. The provision has always existed in the Aarto Act for enforcement orders to be issued against any outstanding infringement, including non-payment of e-tolls, to coerce payment of the fine. Aarto has been in effect in Johannesburg and Pretoria (Tshwane) since 2008.
“Despite it being an issuing authority in the Aarto scheme, Sanral hasnot issued a single infringement notice for failure to pay e-tolls since they came into force in December 2013,” he said.
Sanral has also failed to prosecute a single motorist for not paying e-tolls, using the Criminal Procedure Act, which applies outside of the jurisdictions of the Johannesburg and Tshwane metro police departments.
“Apart from annual tariff increases, no amendments to the ‘e-road regulations’ have been published since 2015,” Dembovsky said.
Outa agreed with Dembovsky stating that the warning from Sanral was fear-mongering, and that 80% of road users in the province would not be able to renew their vehicle licences if the ‘change’ was actually enforced. Outa maintains that Sanral does not have legal ground to withhold licences for non-payment of e-toll bills.
“Renewal of a vehicle licence can only be withheld with if an enforcement order for outstanding infringements fines has been issued against an owner/driver of a vehicle, and it hasn’t been paid. Outstanding e-toll fees is not an infringement as a road traffic offence,” it said.
Changes could be on the horizon
Sanral’s best hope to withhold licenses from motorists who fail to pay e-tolls rests in the upcoming Aarto Amendment Act. The Act retains fining for failure to pay e-toll, adds two new charge codes to enable it more specifically, and it allows Sanral to electronically serve infringement notices on alleged infringers instead of posting them using so-called ‘registered mail’.
Set for national implementation on 1 July 2021, the Aarto Amendment Act has been steeped in controversy regarding its clear objective of promoting revenue generation over road safety and placing an ominous administrative burden on motorists who are presumed guilty of any infringement.
While Transport minister Fikile Mbalula and the Gauteng provincial government have promised a resolution on e-tolls for years, Dembovsky said it is now clear that the system is not going away.
“On the face of things, what is clear is that government has no intention to scrap e-tolling and that it would rather risk triggering a vehicle licensing fees revolt than to admit that it was wrong in contriving this diabolical and convoluted scheme,” he said.
The e-tolls scheme itself faced controversy this weekend after major allegations of corruption surfaced.
An investigation by MyBroadband’s Jan Vermeulen details grave allegations against Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) and its parent company, Kapsch TrafficCom. Among the allegations are that ETC, with full knowledge of Kapsch, made payments totalling R10 million over three years to a company called ProAsh Business Services without receiving any services or deliverables from the company.
According to the allegations in the police report, ETC defrauded the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) by misrepresenting these payments. The police reports also contain allegations that ETC and Kapsch may have bribed Zambian government officials via a local subsidiary called Intelligent Mobility Solutions (IMS).
The third allegation, contained within the documents which were submitted to the NPA, was that Kapsch and ETC had presented a falsified B-BBEE certificate to bid on a SANRAL tender in 2020.
In response to these allegations, Kapsch and ETC said that they are conducting an extensive independent external investigation and will act on the findings.