Nonprofit agency Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) and watchdog Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) have called Electronic Toll Collection’s (ETC’s) plans to implement Gauteng e-toll debt recovery “outrageous”.
The first summons to collect outstanding Gauteng e-toll debt would be issued in the next two weeks, ETC COO Mark Ridgway told journalists at a media briefing on Wednesday. The organisation collected toll fees on the Gauteng toll network on behalf of the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral).
Describing the two weeks notice as “extraordinary”, JPSA chairperson Howard Dembovsky said the 60% discount on outstanding e-tolls, which started in November last year only expired on May 1, “yet ETC is, according to its own assertions, jumping the gun by proceeding to issue summonses a full six weeks prior to this expiry date”.
Outa chairperson Wayne Duvenage pointed out that this risked sinking Sanral’s “entire e-toll ship through the collateral challenge that will ensue from even a single attempt at prosecution or summons against an Outa member”.
ETC had also moved to “list” vehicles that have toll debt attached to them, stating that vehicle dealer networks had requested this, as the administrative burden within dealerships to settle the outstanding toll fees had proved exceptionally cumbersome.
Dembovsky pointed out that it was “bizarre” that people were being expected to believe that motor dealers, whose industry depended on having saleable stock, would have approached ETC to create the so-called “vehicle listing”.
“[This] would severely hamper their ability to sell second-hand motor vehicles. In light of this, we hereby call upon ETC to provide proof of its claim that it was the second-hand motor industry which approached it and not the other way around, or at all,” he said.
ETC also argued that while people had a choice to pay or not to pay, they needed to realise that there were consequences for not paying. “The nonpayment of toll fees is illegal,” ETC CEO Jamie Surkont said.
Duvenage retorted that Outa’s e-toll defence umbrella had one objective – being that not a single motorist or business within its member base would be successfully prosecuted by Sanral or its agents. “We have been preparing for this for years, and will not pull punches in our defence of motorists who give us the mandate to defend them from Sanral’s abusive, irrational and unlawful e-toll scheme.”
Outa legal affairs director advocate Ivan Herselman added that the organisation had already lined up technical, administrative and other significant defences and would subpoena Sanral CEO Nazir Alli, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe and many others to testify.
“We have damning evidence of unlawfulness and irrationality beyond imagination and it is about time that these nonsensical threats are put to bed, once and for all,” he said.
Meanwhile, Outa also rubbished Ridgway’s claims that nonpayers were in “the minority,” stating that Sanral’s own collection figures disproved this statement, with less than 25% of the required revenue being achieved.
“Ridgway, in November, also indicated the massive extent of the public’s refusal to pay, when he stated that 81% of the total discounted debt of R5.9-billion was owed by 17% or 518 000 account holders,” Duvenage said.