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DOT 'sneaks' e-toll Bill to Cabinet

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Transport minister Ben Martins has “snuck through” several amendments to the National Road Traffic Regulations, which enable the implementation of the controversial e-tolling system.

Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister of transport Ian Ollis alleges Martins has flouted regulatory procedure. “Transport minister Ben Martins is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Sibusiso Ndebele, by attempting to dodge parliamentary oversight over key traffic regulations.”

He explains that the amendments were put through without being referred to Parliament or allowing sufficient time for public input.

“Chapter XIII, clause 6, of the National Road Traffic Act (NRTA) and Regulations, clearly states that, before the minister makes any regulation, he must first provide a draft of the proposed regulations, to be referred to Parliament for comment. The regulations must then be gazetted and accompanied by a notice calling for comment, objections or representations on the matter within the period specified within the notice, but no less than four weeks (28 days).”

E-toll essential

Cabinet, in its ordinary meeting this week, approved the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill, 2012, for submission to Parliament.

“The Bill has been necessitated by the development of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), as well as future plans for the development of road infrastructure,” says a Cabinet statement on the meeting.

“Apart from the physical infrastructure, the GFIP will result in the operation of a road network that involves the utilisation of 'intelligent' transport systems. An important component of the network is the electronic toll collection system.”

The Cabinet statement says the Bill is essential to enable the implementation of the e-toll system.

In response

The Department of Transport says no regulation amendments were published without going through the correct processes and in accordance with the applicable guidelines.

“With regard to minister Martins, the statement by MP Ollis is completely untrue as the minister has not yet published any amendments to the NRTA,” it comments.

“On other issues relating to the Sanral Act, which is not part of the NRTA, and publication of the regulation in terms of that Act doesn't require submission to a committee of Parliament.

“The minister of transport, in terms of Section 75 of the National Road Traffic Act, is empowered by Parliament to issue/publish regulations, which are not inconsistent with the Act; therefore this is the minister's competency area. Furthermore, this is in line with the assignment by the Constitution of various legislative competencies to the three tiers of government,” notes the department.

Court date

The amendments enabling e-tolling were put through despite the court battle currently surrounding the issue.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) is challenging the system in court due to, among other issues, the excessive operational costs involved.

An interdict was granted against the implementation of the system, pending the outcome of a full judicial review.

Following a meeting of the party's legal teams with the deputy judge president yesterday in the North Gauteng High Court, the date of 26 November has been set down for the full review hearing of the e-tolling case to take place, according to OUTA.

“The merits of OUTA's case are structured around the unreasonableness of the high costs involved, along with the irrationality of the plan combined with a number of legislative and procedural transgressions by [SA National Roads Agency] Sanral and the government departments of transport and environmental affairs.”

Considerable funding

OUTA chairperson Wayne Duvenage explains that if treasury's appeal of the interdict in the Constitutional Court on 15 August finds in favour of Sanral, this may only allow the interdict to be set aside and for tolling to commence, until such time as the review is heard in November.

OUTA filed its supplementary affidavit (Part B of the application) in mid-July and now awaits the respondents' answering affidavits to be lodged by 17 September, after which time OUTA will produce its replying affidavit by 1 October, in time for the heads of argument to be filed in the High Court by 22 October, giving the judge time to prepare for the hearing in November.

“OUTA still requires considerable funding for the court battle, and urges citizens and businesses in South Africa to participate by contributing toward the legal costs of this case, the details of which are posted on the OUTA Web site at www.outa.co.za.”

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