Long time anti-toll activist Rob Handfield-Jones has said he ws astonished by the decision of the North Gauteng High Court to allow e-tolling of the Gauteng freeways to proceed.
“Last year, Judge Bert Bam of the same court found that SANRAL was not only obliged to consider the National Environmental Management Act, but had failed to do so. He then set aside the proclamation of the section of road under dispute as a toll road,” said Handfield – Jones. “To the best of my knowledge this decision still stands, and it formed part of the case against e-tolling. The question is now, how is it possible that two judges from the same court could make entirely different decisions based on the same set of facts?” he asked.
He said that the submissions before the court clearly showed that SANRAL had failed to comply with NEMA, that its Economic Impact Assessment was severely flawed and that the public participation and consultation process prior to the decision to toll was entirely inadequate. “Consultation implies that the public must understand the consequences of what is being proposed. The fact that fewer than 40 responses were received in 2007, versus over 11 000 in the most recent ‘consultation’ in 2012, shows that the public had little understanding at the time of what the implications of the tolling of Gauteng’s freeways would be,” Handfield – Jones added. “SANRAL’s version of ‘consultation’ was akin to getting someone to agree to a dam being built nearby without telling them their house would be flooded when the dam was filled.
He described it as scandalous that the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project resulted not only in the public being over-charged for the building of the roads, but was exporting the running costs to an overseas company. “Using SANRAL’s figures, GFIP has cost R113 million per kilometre to build. How is this possible for what amounted mostly to large-scale re-surfacing?” he asked.
Handfield-Jones said that the problem with “user pays” was that it targeted only those who were available to pay, rather than those who were able to pay. “The principle of taxation is that revenue collection is spread equitably and everyone pays their share as they are able, on the basis that all benefit from the spending of taxation revenue. ‘User pays’ undermines that principle and unfairly burdens those who have no choice but to wander into the firing line.”
He said that for someone earning R10 000 per month, a R500 monthly toll bill was equivalent to a 50% increase in their tax rate. “If the Minister of Finance announced a 50% personal income tax increase on that category of earner, Parliament would burn. He wouldn’t dare. So why is it regarded as acceptable to do it by stealth under the banner of ‘user pays’?” Handfield – Jones asked. He criticised Treasury as hypocritical. “Treasury claims that ‘user pays’ tolling is not a tax, but then they cry about their lost revenue stream and spend millions on advocates to protect it. Treasury’s own actions tell us exactly what the nature of tolling is. It is a tax. What’s worse is that we have to pay VAT on this tax!”
He called on road users and corporate fleets to reject the unjust and uneconomical system. “Do not buy an e-tag. Do not pay toll fees. The system relies on voluntary compliance. There is no way the justice system or SANRAL could survive even their ideal ninety-three percent compliance rate,” Handfield-Jones said. “It will be impossible to prosecute tens of millions of offences per month. With a compliance rate below eighty percent, the system will collapse in short order.”
He said he regretted having to call on motorists to disobey the law, but saw no alternative. “This is the start of a new Apartheid, where the criteria of discrimination is no longer skin colour, but financial means,” he said. “The government and justice system have failed to protect the small man from this monstrous system, so the small man must protect himself,” he concluded.