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Thu Mar 23 02:25:53 SAST 2017

Sanral 'bonanza' for e-tolls defaulters

SIPHO MABENA | 2016-09-12 06:37:57.0
Sanral overhead toll gantries in Gauteng. File photo
Image by: Brendan Croft

Hundreds of motorists have had their e-toll bills discounted by staggering amounts but the SA National Roads Agency has denied slashing its charges in an effort to shore up its finances.

Some of the discounts are so unbelievable that the e-tolls opposition group Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse described them as ''probably an administrative glitch''.

A motorist who lives in Alberton, on the East Rand, and travels to Rosebank, Johannesburg, daily told The Times that, in mid-2014, his e-tolling bills totalled just over R18,000. A month later, this was discounted to R9 000 - but he was still not prepared to pay, saying he was waiting for the findings of Gauteng Premier David Makhura's panel, which reviewed the e-tolls' socioeconomic effects.

He said he "nearly fell off my chair" when he received a "ridiculously" discounted bill of R133.36 at the end of last month if he settled the bill by Thursday next week.

Outa, the tolling system's most vociferous critic, said it was aware of hundreds of other motorists who had been offered huge discounts.

The East Rand motorist says he has two cars registered in his name and does not have an e-tag, but one of his cars was seldom on the road and has been in for repairs for months.

"The bill itself did not make sense. I could not understand how my bill could be so high when I do all I can to avoid tolled roads. I go under three e-tolling gantries," he said.

He said he went to the Sanral booth at the Alberton City shopping centre in June last year to take advantage of the 60% discount on historic debt announced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in May last year but he has yet to hear from Sanral.

"The person manning the booth took down my details and said Sanral would get back to me but I have not heard anything," he said.

He is still baffled by the latest discount, asking himself what has happened to all the money he supposedly owed Sanral.

"Even if I were prepared to pay, I keep asking myself how can they manage the system if they cannot get their invoicing right?"

Another unregistered motorist said his April bill was R2,800, which was discounted to R1,700 if he paid immediately. Then he received a bill for R5,500 discounted to R4,400.

"Three months later, in August, the bill had gone up to R13,800 and was discounted to R11,500. How they arrived at the amount, I do not know."

His wife's car, which she drives daily under five gantries between Benoni and Bryanston, is registered in his name.

"Something is wrong. My son drives a light motor vehicle but he is billed for a heavy motor vehicle."

Wayne Duvenage, chairman of Outa, said the organisation had hundreds of members who said that they had been given inexplicable discounts.

He said that if motorists thought that their e-tolling bills had been written off "they have another think coming".

"It appears that Sanral has ring-fenced the old debt. Only new debt is reflecting on the statement. We don't know why this is done. It does not make sense," he said.

Duvenage said Outa would defend about 100 of its members - among the 6500 individuals summonsed for non-payment - in a test case of the legality of the summonsing by Sanral.

"This is an indicator of what we warned about: that the system is unworkable and cumbersome," he said.

In March the embattled roads agency cancelled its bond auction, the third of the year, after it failed to attract sufficient investor interest. Its struggles to meet its financial obligations are cited as a reason for the investor caution.

E-toll collections were between R45-million and R82-million last year, with the 60% discount on historic e-toll debt yielding nearly R145-million.

The agency's CEO, Nazir Ali, said yesterday the 60% discount of historic debt was the only discount Sanral offered.

"People who think they can join Outa and be immune must know that failure to pay e-tolls is a criminal offence. Outa has shown no respect for the law."

Ali warned motorists not to heed rumours about Sanral.

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