E-tolling on Gauteng highways is expected to start on April 30. Picture: Gallo Images
As Congress of SA Trade Unions promise to keep a close eye on the upcoming legal dispute over e-tolling, and as well as finalising plans for the 'mother of all' protests'- we have to ask: what is at stake?
Although Cosatu has consistently opposed Gauteng e-tolling system, the union federation does not rule out possibilities of reaching a compromise deal.
"Cosatu will not intervene at this stage of the proceedings, but we have requested that our lawyers maintain a watching brief," spokesman Patrick Craven said in a statement on Friday.
He said lawyers would be present when the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance takes the SA National Roads Agency Limited to court on Tuesday.
"If there is a need to intervene at a later stage, we will do so. This should in no way be understood as Cosatu backing down from its position on the e-tolls."
Earlier this week, the federation announced it was planning "the mother of all protests" against e-tolling. It would encourage its two million members to join rallies, marches, demonstrations and night vigils across the country on April 23.
E-tolling on Gauteng highways is expected to start on April 30.
Union and investment arms- an inherent contradiction?
Cosatu investment arm Kopano Ke Matla has stood by the union federation secretary-general’s claims that there was no e-tolling issue when construction company Raubex got a tender to build a Gauteng highway.
Zwelinzima Vavi was responding to reports that Cosatu was secretly benefiting from Raubex, while also piling pressure on the government to ban the e-tolling system.
Prabir Badal, chairperson of Kopano Ke Matla, denied media reports that Kopano Ke Matla had a 3% shareholding in Raubex. He said the company owned a 24% stake in Matlapeng Holdings, a partner of Raubex.
“I don’t know why people are sensationalising this matter without verifying the facts about the links of these entities,” Badal said.
Raubex won a tender in early 2000 and the issue of e-tolling was not even being considered at that time. The tender was awarded by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) for the upgrading of the R21 road between Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport, which Raubex carried out.
“Raubex built the road and at that time we did not know that it would be e-tolled,” Badal said. “Raubex will continue building roads despite a public outcry over its links with Cosatu.”
Asked about the tender documents, Badal undertook to respond at a later stage after getting enough information and referred further enquiries to Kopano Ke Matla CEO and chairperson of Raubex Collin Matjila.
On Tuesday April 4th, the CEO of Cosatu's investment arm Kopano Ke Matla resign as non-executive chairman of road construction company Raubex to prevent a 'perceived conflict of interest'.
Inkatha Freedom Party(IFP) said Government will have to bail out Sanral and civil servants' pension fund should the e-toll project fail, a report said on Friday.
According to Beeld newspaper, Chairman of the board of trustees of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), Arthur Moloto, confirmed that as of the end of February 2012, it held roughly 50% of Sanral bonds valued at around R15.7bn.
The money was invested by the Public Investment Corporation, which is owned by government and manages investment funds on behalf of public sector entities.
Roelof Botha, an economic researcher from the Gordon Institute of Business Science, noted recently that although the proposed Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) would result in unmitigated success and tangible benefits for South Africa, the project will also make the rich poorer, not the poor poorer,"
Other analysts also believe the toll project will increase SA's international credit ratings and prevent further fuel levy increases.
Anti-toll petitions were carried out with thousands of signatures tabled in a hearing organised by the Gauteng’s department of roads and transport.
In January, the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) announced that the start of the e-toll system will be delayed.
The system has not been without its fair share of controversy. The first major delay in implementing it was in February 1. It would have seen motorists paying 40c per kilometre, with higher amounts levied on medium (R1) and longer vehicles (R2), in the revised toll fees announced by Sanral, following a public outcry over the initial fees. The initial proposal would have seen light motor vehicles paying 66c per kilometre.
At the time of announcing the delay, the Sanral board was said to be "exploring different modalities" and was to "present its findings to the minister (of transport).”
When the Gauteng tolling outcry was at its highest late last year, Minister of transport Sibusiso Ndebele said it was a “done deal” and motorists would have to pay to use Gauteng’s freeways regularly.
Motorists do not have to buy e-tags to use Gauteng's toll roads, but it makes economic sense to do so, Treasury director general Lungisa Fuzile said recently.
"Whilst it makes economic sense from the individual road user's point of view to buy the e-tags to save, you don't have to have a tag to use the road," he said at the Reuters economist of the year awards in Johannesburg few weeks ago.
"Therefore Sanral [the SA National Roads Agency Limited] does not need you to have a tag in order to track the person down and deliver the bill relating to the use of the road," he said.
Fuzile said he accepted that there was an argument that some people need to be cushioned from the user-pay principle.
"But to reject the user-pay principle and expect someone else to pay was 'bad economics'."
"To say 'phansi with user pay' [down with user pay]... is problematic. It takes things too far," he said.
In London, vehicle users had to pay a congestion charge, just because the roads were clogged, he said.
The fee had nothing to do with whether the roads were good, or whether the road user was making savings on vehicle wear and tear.
In South Africa, the roads were good, and road users were getting a good deal.
Fuzile said that when it was decided to toll the roads to fund the upgrades (in Cabinet in 2007), the economy was doing well and the recession of 2008/09 was yet to come.
He conceded that people were now feeling the pinch and that the tolls were hard to digest.
However, rejecting the user-pay principal was unhelpful and did not make economic sense.
In his Budget in February, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced that drivers of ordinary vehicles would pay 30 cents a kilometre, instead of the original 66 cents.
Fees would be capped at R550 for frequent users and taxis. Other accredited public transport providers would not have to pay the e-tag fee.
Heavy vehicles would get a 20 percent discount if they travelled off peak.
Gordhan allocated R5.8 billion to Sanral for the financial year towards the R20 billion debts it had incurred to upgrade the roads.
"We are convinced that this is actually a good deal, and therefore it d