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E-tolls: 'Allow ANC to exit gracefully'

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It would hardly be a surprise if the review panel recommends e-tolls be scrapped, says the Justice Project SA.
It would hardly be a surprise if the review panel recommends e-tolls be scrapped, says the Justice Project SA.

While e-toll opponents largely agree the system will shortly be scrapped, and this is most likely the main recommendation of the e-toll advisory panel in its final report to Gauteng premier David Makhura, some have called for patience to allow government to exit gracefully from the e-toll debacle.

Political and civic groups have been divided on whether Makhura made the right decision to hold off on releasing the final e-toll review report to the public immediately, or whether provincial government should study it first.

Panel chairperson professor Muxe Nkondo on Sunday handed the report to Makhura, along with all submissions made during the review process. In turn, Makhura refused to discuss the report, and instead asked the media to allow the provincial government to study it first. He added the document would be released to the public in January.

However, this has not stopped speculation around the report and criticism of Makhura's decision to hold off on its release. Some commentators have expressed concern that the report's delayed release could bring into question transparency around the review process, fearing that an "edited" version of the document would eventually find its way into the public domain. Other have gone as far as to speculate about the actual contents and recommendations contained in the report.

Media reports this morning suggested the main recommendation by the panel is for national government to scrap the e-tolling system. Times Live quotes an unnamed ANC source as saying the report rejects e-tolls, which must be discontinued.

The Times says it has received information that shows the panellists believe e-tolling will "strangle" the Gauteng economy and damage the national economy. The source suggests there is distinct political barb attached to the e-tolling issue, saying national ANC leadership needs to see "the party would be 'punished again, like in the previous elections', if it continued with e-tolling".

E-tolling has already played a central role in the purported division between national and provincial leadership structures of the ruling party, with the ANC in Gauteng calling on national government to scrap the system.

Zero reliance

However, Justice Project SA chairperson Howard Dembovsky is highly critical of those trying to pre-empt the report's public release, or any decision that will eventually be taken around e-tolling by government.

"I place zero reliance on the leaks around the report. But I would be very surprised if the report didn't recommend just that [that e-tolls be scrapped]," he says.

"These leaks come hot on the heels of the report being handed to Makhura and those that are calling for the report's release are jumping the gun. Patience needs to be exercised."

Dembovsky argues that - as Gauteng premier - Makhura also has other pressing matters to attend to, other than e-tolling, and advises people to stop propagating conspiracy theories around the review process, the report and its transparency. "I support conspiracy facts, not theories. To suggest that another version of the report will be released by Makhura is ridiculous. If that happened, all that would need to happen would be for the original report to be leaked and his political career would be over."

He also says the political elements of e-tolling should not be built up into a conspiracy theory, as it is obvious politics underlie the concept of e-tolls and their subsequent review. "Of course it's a political play. What interesting is that it's within the same party.

"However, the review panel was never set up to support the citizens of Gauteng. It was there to support Makhura. Any politician will admit e-tolls have cost the ANC votes in the last election, so something had to be done."

Dembovsky says it is quite possible the outcome of the review process could have been predetermined. "Something needed to come along to give the ANC a graceful way out of this. If we don't allow them to exit gracefully, it could lead to a stalemate."

Meanwhile, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) has expressed disappointment that Makhura did not immediately make the report public. "For the sake of transparency, while government is studying the recommendations, the public should have been able to do the same. So we are a bit disappointed," says Outa chairman Wayne Duvenage.

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