Zuma signs e-toll Bill
The Presidency this evening announced president Jacob Zuma has signed the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill into law.
The law, dubbed the e-toll Bill, paves the way for the controversial e-tolling of Gauteng's freeways, at a time when the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) is subject to a review by the Supreme Court of Appeal, which kicked off today.
In a statement, the Presidency says the Act will "facilitate the upgrading and development of the transport infrastructure and public transport in the republic". It is not yet clear how the court action will affect the project.
The Presidency, in the statement issued by spokesman Mac Maharaj, says the new law will "provide more effectively for the collection of toll". It will also amend the Cross-Border Road Transport Act, empowering the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency to collect tolls on behalf of the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral).
In addition, the vague statement says, the law amends the Sanral Act by: "Inserting a definition; to further provide for the differentiation in respect of the amount of toll that may be levied; to provide that the regulations made by the minister must be published by notice in the Gazette; to provide for the minister to make regulations relating to specified toll-related matters; to provide for the minister to publish draft regulations in the Gazette calling for public comment; to provide for certain presumptions relating to the driving, operation and use of vehicles on a toll road and the use of electronic evidence to prove an alleged contravention of the Sanral Act; to exclude the levying and collection of toll from the ambit of the National Credit Act, 2005; and to amend the contents of the Sanral Act."
There had been widespread speculation that Zuma would hold off on signing this law until after next year's May elections, as the topic, which has outraged civil society, was seen as a political hot potato.
South Africa's largest trade union, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, has voiced vehement opposition to tolling on Gauteng's freeways, while church leaders have also cried out against it.
The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) is this week appealing to the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein in a bid to halt the project.
Outa is appealing the judgement passed down by judge Louis Vorster in December last year, arguing the judgement misinterpreted an earlier ruling of the Constitutional Court. Two days have been set aside for the matter, during which judges will hear the heads of argument from Outa and government bodies, including Treasury and Sanral.
Sanral's project has been delayed several times by court cases and Zuma's failure to sign the Bill, which has led the agency to be downgraded by rating agencies. This will make it more difficult for it to raise cash on the market as its own cashflow comes under pressure.
Each month the gantries are operational, but not earning money, costs Sanral R20 million. The total cost of the project was R20 billion, around a fifth of which was funded by Treasury through a move in which it allocated additional funds to the delayed project.
Transport minister Dipuo Peters recently responded to a parliamentary question regarding the commencement date for e-tolls from Freedom Front Plus (FF+) spokesperson Anton Alberts, saying: "The GFIP will still be implemented in 2013; however, the date for the commencement of the tolling has not been determined."
A number of observers, including Outa's Wayne Duvenage, Alberts and DA shadow minister of transport Ian Ollis, have said it is highly unlikely e-tolls will go live this year.
The FF+ said earlier this month that the e-toll Bill was unsigned, because Zuma's legal advisors suspect the piece of legislation is unconstitutional. At the same time, the Department of Transport released a statement saying Sanral is technically ready to implement e-tolling, and motorists should get tagged in preparation for the launch.