South Africa never had a proper dialogue about e-tolls

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The manner in which some South African motorists and commuters have responded to the call made by the Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni, when he asked fellow South Africans to pay up their e-toll debts, is evidence that the approach of the state towards e-toll has not worked.

Many South Africans do not understand the need to settle the debt owed to theimprovements of our roads. The conversations about e-tolls have alwaysbeen based on; “paying” and “not paying” with very few people engaging on the link between improved roads, industrialisation, economic growth and development.

When the state was supposed to create public platforms that will serve as spaces to engage South Africans, explain the need of improved roads to economic growth and the fact that the resources used to improve roads that are connected to ports and economic zones were built through debts. The state was rather arrogant, and missed a chance to make South Africans understand the importance of paying back the debt.

If you can recall former President Jacob Zuma once said that, “This is not Malawi” when he was supposed to unpack on the importance of e-tolls. Had the state been able to create public platforms, South African motorists and commuters would have understood that e-tolls are not permanent.
Had we all united and settled the debt, the life-span of e-tolls would become shorter. This points out to the need for the state to always find effective mechanisms in the strides to build a developmental state, through the unity of all South Africans. Such unity, is created through meaningful public participation in government decisions.

The public participation is not only restricted into blindly supporting the state, but it expands to active participation in the economic activities of the nation. With improved roads, the rate in which exports and imports are conducted increases, therefore settling the balance of  payments. This means that job opportunities can be created, domestic products can be integrated into the global markets and more poor SouthAfricans will have access to the Rand and be able to have more than $1 US  Dollar per day.
This also means that in the future the development of our infrastructure and roads will not merely depend on aid and debt, South Africans will be able to build their own. The current economic conditions in our country, necessitates the current approach by Treasury to implement a user-pay principle as suggested in the Budget Speech.

The principles is shaped by the fact that, there’s load-shedding as our current reality, many corporations are unable to raise profits, some employees may be retrenched, the rating agencies are waiting to see the impact of the state’s intervention of unbundling Eskom and some economists have argued that another rescission may hit our markets.
The state will be forced to fall in more debts in order to protect the poor masses from the bad economic conditions. Therefore it is important for most South Africans to pay for services that they use, to generate possibilities of income for the state. The SANRAL board cannot ignore such

The board neglected its fiduciary responsibilities enshrined in theCompanies Act to always put the interest of the institution as first priority. The debt owed by SANRAL, impacts the nation’s balance sheet, making this a responsibility for all South Africans. It is an account that is payable, the state cannot run away from it. 

The debt is sitting at around R30 Billion, any board with such credit, would not sleep at night, but stay awake to think of innovative ways to fundraise. But with Sanral, fundraising must happen simultaneously with its responsibility to collect the debts due. Therefore it is clear that, the SANRAL board was reckless to ignore such realities. With the current decision of the SANRAL board, it seems like the road agency, wants to fall in the trap of other state parastatals such as; Eskom, South African Airways (SAA) and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) whom have always been dependants of the incessant bail outs from the state.

The bail outs have a negative impact on the capacity of the state to act on its responsibilities and provide services to the people, especially the poor. It is also important to state that in the transport department there is no integration in the regulative framework of the various modes of transport.
For instance the Airports Company South Africa, is under the competency of the department of transport together with PRASA, but the South African Airways and Transnet falls under Public enterprise. The challenge with this, is that the department then consists of divergent agencies that are meant to achieve the same tasks.

It is also important to state that, the role of building developmental state does not only depend on the current government, but it is a collective role. As the Holy Scriptures have advised us; “Pay your taxes, render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” This must serve as a clarion call for all stakeholders in the transport industry, corporations, motorists, commuters, ordinary South Africans and the government to create a proper platform and discuss the plight of e-tolls. Such a platform will assist in mitigating the differences in the existing bargaining power.

Take for instance, with the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) there is no way that the City can arbitrary implement the integrated transport network without proper consultation with all relevant stakeholders. Such an approach hasled to the harmonization in the relations and the manner in which the busses operate. The same needs to happen with SANRAL, the entity cannot exist in isolation from the  existing transport systems, especially because SANRAL deals with independent motorists who are not represented by any unions and organizations.

It is obvious that many South Africans have been reluctant to pay for e-tolls, because they feel that their money will fall in the hands of the beneficiaries of state capture. They are not happy about the level of corruption in the parastatals. However it is crucial to state that, the process to consolidate democracy is paramount towards creating the building blocks of the developmental state. There are commissions put in place, meant to investigate and put measurers in place that will curb any attempts of the state capture in the near future. The state must urgently engage its citizens on the debt at hand
Rhulani Thembi Siweya

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