'Cushy' debt deal for firm linked to e-toll executive

13 March 2016 - 02:00 By STEPHAN HOFSTATTER and MZILIKAZI wa AFRIKA

Flashy Cape Town businessman and e-toll executive Mark Ridgway has links to the company that clinched a secretive deal to recover more than R14-billion in unpaid e-toll fees from millions of South Africans who use Gauteng's freeways. Ridgway - who has posted photos on Facebook of his high-flying lifestyle, including a helicopter and Spitfire captioned "my new and old toys" - is also accused of punting his private business interests while working for a state-contracted entity.As chief operating officer of the Electronic Toll Collections company, which is paid about R580-million a year by state roads agency Sanral to run Gauteng's e-tolls, Ridgway has launched several initiatives to aggressively pursue defaulters.Ridgway's contract as COO expires at the end of the month but his companies will profit by billing the Eletronic Toll Collections company consulting fees for helping Sanral collect outstanding e-toll debt.E-toll tariffs went up 6% on Friday. Anti-toll activist group Outa has calculated that 91% of about 2.5 million e-toll road users currently refuse to pay, although Sanral disputes this.Ridgway's plans to make rebellious motorists cough up for using Gauteng's highway network include taking legal action that could result in court judgments and blacklisting of hundreds of thousands of motorists. Defaulters could face having their property attached and being denied credit cards, home loans and car finance.In a deal sure to raise eyebrows in December Electronic Toll Collections awarded a contract to recover e-toll debts worth R14.75-billion to Cape Town-based ITC Business Administrators, a company Ridgway has a long history with.Ridgway worked for ITC Business Administrators for 13 years under the chairmanship of Larry Sive when it traded under the name Transunion Receivables Management. Sive still owns a large stake in the company. During his last six years at the company Ridgway also served on Sive's board.mini_story_image_vleft1The e-toll debt collection deal is shrouded in mystery. The contract was awarded after a secretive bidding process run by an audit firm. It was never advertised.Sanral, Electronic Toll Collections and ITC Business Administrators all refuse to disclose the cut the debt-collection company stands to make from cash recovered, the fees it is likely to charge or how long the contract will run, describing this as "commercially confidential information".Sanral said it was "not party to the agreements between ETC and their subsuppliers or subcontractor".ITC Business Administrators is 51% owned by Safika Investments. The remaining 49% belongs to an entity called Jagfin Trust.The company refused to disclose the trust's beneficiaries, but the Sunday Times has established it belongs to Larry Sive and his wife, Denise.Electronic Toll Collections declined to explain why it had opted for a closed tender . It said a "formal procurement process was followed, multiple potential service providers identified and the successful service provider was ITC".Ridgway denied that Electronic Toll Collections' awarding of the deal to a company he used to head represented a conflict of interest."When the tender for this collection process went out I was recused completely," he said. "I wasn't involved at all."Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage accuses Ridgway of also using his senior position at a state-contracted company to line up future business for himself by threatening motorists with legal action and having their cars listed as encumbered with debt if they do not pay their outstanding tolls.Duvenage pointed out that Ridgway has a company called Mark Eden Management and started up a separate company, Mark Eden Vehicle Data Services, while working for Electronic Toll Collections."For two years Ridgway was a relatively quiet and unknown COO of ETC, but in about November last year he started to become a vocal spokesperson, making a lot of noise about e-toll debt."This included "a rant about vehicles being listed, when there is no law that prohibits the sale of a used car with e-toll debt," said Duvenage."It's very suspicious and smacks of conflict of interest and punting issues that create a false public fear, whilst seemingly turning this into a private moneymaking initiative."Ridgway denied the vehicle data services company was set up to profit from the vehicle blacklisting he was threatening motorists with."That company was set up because I am a specialist in collections," he said. "It's an entity that I use in order to bill out my fees."Even though the company is called Mark Eden Vehicle Data Services, it had "nothing to do with" vehicle listing "at this stage", he said.The name was "absolutely just something plucked out of the air".investigations@sundaytimes.co.za..

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