E-toll appeal 'tactically unwise'
Government's decision to appeal the 28 April interdict against the contentious Gauteng e-tolling system is puzzling and disappointing, say several organisations.
Cabinet yesterday announced it is set to appeal an interim High Court ruling interdicting the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) from implementing e-tolling, despite the appeal deadline lapsing. It added that it only received the judgement this week and is currently reviewing it.
“Government is showing its contempt for taxpayers of SA with its decision to appeal the e-toll court judgment. Even before the government had studied the judgment, to find out if there are legal grounds on which to base an appeal, it announced that it would not accept the judgment of the court. This speaks of arrogance and the government's rejection of the rights of taxpayers whose money the government is going to waste further with an unnecessary court case. Government is trying to prove a point with taxpayers' money,” says Anton Alberts, FF Plus parliamentary spokesperson on transport.
He adds that government does not have sufficient legal grounds to succeed with an appeal. The decision to appeal also means government is not serious about the committee which had been appointed, under the leadership of deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, to look into the entire e-toll system.
“The decision to appeal is based on the principle of government that the e-tolls will be implemented at all costs to pay off the debt that government had acquired in the construction of the project. Government should not appeal against the judgment, but should rather be looking for alternative measures to pay off the debt, without taxpayers' money being wasted and punishing road users for the mistakes of the government.”
Doomed to fail
The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA), which brought the interdict against e-tolling, says it is surprised by Cabinet's decision to appeal.
“Despite the announcement, our attorney of record has not received any correspondence to this effect. In the interim, we are awaiting the full record from all respondents, prior to OUTA being able to prepare its affidavits for the judicial review process to commence.”
Democratic Alliance (DA) Gauteng caucus leader, Jack Bloom, says government's decision is tactically unwise and doomed to fail. “Even Sanral wasn't appealing. I don't think they'll win the appeal against the interim order. Judge Bill Prinsloo gave excellent reasons for granting it.”
Bloom adds that this appeal creates more uncertainty and it's uncertainty that unsettles a financial market. “Government's appeal will just drag out the court proceedings, creating further uncertainty in the credit markets.”
He also says government still hasn't considered cancelling the e-toll contract. There will be damages, but it will be better than a long, drawn-out court battle.
“I'm just puzzled about why they would do this. They can fight the main case of course, but this fruitless challenge is puzzling. I am puzzled by government's hard line on this, as Sanral itself indicated earlier this week that it would not appeal the interim interdict and the court proceedings on the merits of the case could, therefore, proceed.”
The Justice Project SA (JPSA) is disappointed with government's announcement. “While appeal is most certainly the right of anyone, including Cabinet, it is sad to see that in the face of such overwhelming public opposition to the unjustifiably high cost e-toll method of collecting monies to pay for the GFIP roads, government is persisting with its stance that this is a 'done deal' and we are just going to 'have to' accept it.”
“We also need to ask whether the intention to appeal the interdict has anything to do with an attempt to halt a full enquiry into the project in order to cover up possible corruption or not.”
The organisation emphasises that it is not suggesting the roads must not be paid for, or that they should not be paid for by motorists, but it is of the belief that a ring-fenced fuel levy will achieve the objectives of paying for the roads in a far more efficient and less costly manner.
No debt option
Government says it will continue to consult the public and various organisations on the GFIP, with a view to reaching a constructive outcome.
However, at the same time, it says the money borrowed for the GFIP must be repaid. “As a country we need to demonstrate unequivocal commitment to meet all our contractual obligations, including repaying the debt incurred in the construction of the GFIP. Defaulting on our debt is simply not an option.”
It also says it will take the necessary steps to ensure Sanral's financial soundness pending the outcome of the legal and consultation processes.