Departing Sanral CEO digs heels in over user pays e-tolls

DEPARTING South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) CEO Nazir Alli dug his heels in on the much-maligned user pays e-toll system on Thursday, despite its most recent rejection by African National Congress (ANC) structures at the party’s national general council.

Mr Alli made his last presentation as head of Sanral to the portfolio committee on transport on Thursday afternoon. While the presentation focused on the overall state of the roads agency, he spent the latter part of the briefing fielding tough questions from committee members on e-tolls.

Mr Alli repeated his stance, expressed in Sanral’s annual report, that even if the tolling system was scrapped, the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project had to be paid for in a way that was equitable and that did not disadvantage the poor.

“We are not North America or Europe where we can print money. We can’t. What surprises me among business is that when we borrow money, they assume that we do not need to repay it. If anyone can offer me some money without a need to repay it, then please come and speak to me after the presentation,” Mr Alli quipped.

Committee member for the Democratic Alliance Manny de Freitas challenged Mr Alli’s assertion. He said while no one disputes the importance of the freeway improvement, consultation on the user pay principle had been sorely lacking, prompting outrage among Gauteng motorists.

“Of course people want good roads and Gauteng is happy with the roads. That’s not the point. The people are merely saying that they were not consulted. Sanral doesn’t seem to understand this and all they had to do is have a proper public consultation and they wouldn’t have people up in arms,” Mr de Freitas said.

Mr Alli insisted that the user pay system was the best alternative. He referred to research by the Gauteng provincial government’s advisory panel on e-tolls that concluded that the system had a 0.4% burden on poor residents, as opposed to the cheapest of the panel’s own proposed alternatives, which would have a 2.7% burden on the poor.

Portfolio committee chairwoman Dikeledi Magadzi said: “The communication on e-tolls is superb. When other entities come we note that their communication around their work is usually found wanting. You must make sure that whoever comes in after you does not defocus.”

Mr Alli said the appropriateness of the user pays system was further confirmed by court rulings, as well as a recent court ruling that found a motorist guilty of cloning number plates and failing to pay the toll.

During the ANC’s national general council last week, the party’s youth league, as well as its Gauteng provincial structures expressed misgivings over the e-toll system and fell short of asking the mother body to scrap the system altogether.

© BDlive 2015

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