Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. Picture: Gallo Images
A Constitutional Court judgment yesterday to set aside the interim interdict against e-tolling has been met with dismay from most quarters, with Cosatu warning of widespread civil disobedience should the government go ahead with e-tolling.
The ruling, based on upholding separation of powers and the South African National Roads Agency Limited’s (Sanral’s) need to urgently implement e-tolling for financial reasons, in effect means that Sanral can start e-tolling today.
Technically, Sanral can go ahead with e-tolling, but five outstanding issues still need to be resolved.
These include the publishing of revised tariff pricing and final terms and conditions.
Also, greater clarity is required on e-toll exemptions, the regulations for the “e-toll police”, and the enforcement method for nonpayment.
Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) chairperson Wayne Duvenage, who has been at the forefront of the legal battle against e-tolling, put on a brave face, saying that they were always cautiously optimistic about the Constitutional Court judgment but that it wasn’t now simply a case of e-tolling being implemented tomorrow.
Cosatu said: “The legal arguments have never been the issue. We oppose e-tolling in principle, as an attempt to privatise a public asset and force motorists, including thousands of workers, to pay double to get to and from work.
“We warn the government not to even think about implementing e-tolls until consultations (with the interministerial committee) have been completed,” Cosatu said.
But Transport Department spokesperson Tiyani Rokhotso said: “There is a platform in the form of stakeholder engagement through the IMC wherein we engaged with all concerned stakeholders, including Cosatu.”
Constitutional law expert Prof Pierre de Vos said that the Constitutional Court looked at whether the North Gauteng High Court, which awarded the interim interdict, had balanced the interests of motorists against those of Sanral.
“The decision was clearly the correct one, because it reminds us that people who complain about the Constitutional Court interfering in the matters of government are not well versed in law. The court clearly has respect for separation of powers,” said De Vos.
The government welcomed the ruling, saying it reaffirmed its conviction that the North Gauteng High Court had erred in interfering with policy making.
“Government remains convinced about the appropriateness of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, with the user-pay principle, as part of our country’s investment in road infrastructure and our collective drive to grow the economy. The development of a country’s road infrastructure plays a critical role in building its economy and sustaining its growth by facilitating the movement of goods and services across the country,” said the department.
DA road and transport spokesperson Neil Campbell said: “It will be very naive of them to implement e-tolling immediately. It would be wise to wait and start in January (after the judicial review).”
Political analyst Prof Steven Freidman said: “The big question is how Sanral and the government are going to implement e-tolling without stirring violence.”
Sanral is yet to announce whether it intends to implement e-tolling in the two-month period leading up to the November 26 judicial review.
Brait economist Colin Garrow said e-tolling would add to the burden of living for many people. He said there were better ways of recovering the costs of the infrastructure. These may include increasing the Gauteng vehicle licensing fee.
This view stands against the user pays principle pushed by Sanral and the treasury.
There is concern that imposing a further burden on the already strained national fiscus might cause serious problems in the long term and it would also be considered unfair for non-Gatueng residents.
The argument is best captured in the pronouncement by Sanral CEO Nazir Ali, who said the user pays principle would in the end benefit the user by a factor of 8.4 times.
“It will be in your time savings because you won’t be stuck in the congestion and, of course, the vehicle operating cost, and of course if one looks at the reduction in your carbon footprint.
“It’s one unit of expenditure incurred at the benefit of 8.4 units.”