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COSATU Today  |  COSATU Press Statements

COSATU rejects e-toll `reprieve`

16 July 2014

The Congress of South African trade unions has noted the so-called ‘reprieve’ for Gauteng motorists announced by Transport Minister Dipuo Peters in Parliament on 15 July 2014. Her ‘concessions’ include an extended payment period of 51 days from the day motorists pass through the gantry, as opposed to the current seven days, a 48 percent e-tag-holder discount and a “time-of-day discount”.

This move is an attempt to respond to the huge opposition to e-tolls and the widespread refusal to pay them, but COSATU sees no evidence that it marks any change of government policy, especially since the minister told MPs this was being done to make it easier for people to comply with e-tolls and that she urged motorists “to continue contributing towards the building of a better South Africa, to move our country forward".

What most angers COSATU is that national government is disrespecting the decision by Gauteng Premier David Makhura, to appoint an advisory panel to study the effect of e-tolls. The Department of Transport is in effect saying that the panel’s findings will not make the lightest difference to national government policy and that e-tolls are here to stay.

More proof that nothing has changed was the statement by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) that they have assigned two prosecutors to work with Sanral with the view to establish whether the activities by some motorists constitute an offence in terms of the Sanral Act, Section 27(5)(a), which makes it an offence to refuse or fail to pay the amount of toll that is due and is punishable on conviction with imprisonment or a fine.

COSATU supports the view of OUTA that “It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for one organ of state to pursue criminal prosecution over unpaid e-toll bills while another organ of state is inviting public engagement to examine the impact that e-tolls is having on the productivity of the region, the social well- being of its people, and the implications for the environment... The Minister’s ‘reprieve’ is in fact further evidence that the system is fundamentally ill-conceived, unworkable and destined for the scrap heap of history.”

Tolls add to the burdens of workers and the poor, who are being asked to pay to travel on highways which were previously free of charge, and already paid for through taxes. They are already burdened by rising fuel prices and electricity tariffs, and inflation rose by 6.6% year-on-year in May 2014, after a 6.1% rise in April. Food inflation, which has a 14.2% weighting in the consumer basket and which hits the poorest hardest, increased by 9.1%.

Tolls also put an indirect burden on the poor of the whole country by adding to the cost of transporting goods, which have an immediate effect on food inflation.

The federation remain totally opposed to the user-pays principle, which the minister insists “remained a policy of government”, and which is also advocated in the National Development Plan (NDP) which states that in the long term, "users must pay the bulk of the costs for economic infrastructure, with due protection for poor households".

This is one of many areas where the NDP’s position is fundamentally contrary to the federation’s views. The ‘user-pays’ principle for public services such as education, health care and public transport, is a capitalist and elitist principle which perpetuates the two-tier system of service delivery.

It is directly contrary to the spirit of the Freedom Charter, which calls for public services to be provided on the basis of people`s needs and not their wealth. Taken to its logical conclusion `user-pays` would mean that only the sick would pay for medical services and only the parents of school-age children would pay for education.

The capitalist nature of e-tolling was vividly illustrated when Sanral recently objected to the Gauteng review panel on the grounds that it created uncertainty and undermined investor confidence. They are saying that placating investors is more important that listening to the people of Gauteng, who made their hatred of e-tolls clear in the 7 May 2014 election, and their democratically elected Premier, who responded to their concerns.

There is a genuine problem of congestion on our roads, but many low income earners use cars to travel to work solely because they have no reliable alternative. This will not be solved by forcing people to pay to use the roads and excluding those who cannot pay, but by steadily improving our public transport services, making them more reliable, accessible, affordable and safe, until they become the preferred way to travel, and motorists can safely leave their cars at home.

E-tolling is a form of privatisation, turning what ought to be a publicly-funded essential service into a commodity. The tolls are also ridiculously expensive to collect. According to Sanral`s own estimate, at least 17% of the money collected in tolls is simply used to collect the money. The government’s ‘concessions’ will mean that an even higher proportion of the revenue collected will go towards the collections costs.
For all these reasons e-tolls remain not only unjust but also unworkable.
- Stop the privatisation of our public highways!
- Reject user-pays for basic public services!
- Don`t buy e-tags!
- Don`t register will Sanral!
- Make e-tolling unworkable!

Patrick Craven (National Spokesperson)
Congress of South African Trade Unions
110 Jorissen Cnr Simmonds Streets

P.O.Box 1019
South Africa

Tel: +27 11 339-4911 Direct 010 219-1339
Fax: +27 11 339-6940
Mobile: +27 82 821 7456
E-Mail: patrick@cosatu.org.za