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DA demands e-toll referendum

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The panel's recommendation of a hybrid funding model overcomplicates an already uncertain funding regime, says the DA.
The panel's recommendation of a hybrid funding model overcomplicates an already uncertain funding regime, says the DA.

Official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has called on Gauteng premier David Makhura to announce a referendum on e-tolling in his State of the Province address, which will be held on 19 February.

"He must ask the people of Gauteng to say 'yes' or 'no' on the scrapping of e-tolls. He must then use this mandate from the people to negotiate the end of e-tolling with national government. The people's voice on e-tolling must prevail, not the [e-toll advisory] panel's voice," says the party.

The DA has accused Makhura of betraying the people of Gauteng by refusing to call for the scrapping of e-tolls, "despite the overwhelming public opposition to this unfair and unjust system".

This comes after the e-toll advisory panel's report was released to the public by Makhura, with findings that included the fact that the system places a financial burden on low- and middle-income households, and is administratively burdensome.

The panel primarily recommends the current e-toll system be reviewed to address the questions of affordability, equity, fairness, administrative simplicity and sustainability. In total, the panel made more than 50 recommendations that address the socio-economic impact of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project and e-tolls, including issues of public transport infrastructure, environmental sustainability and spatial integration of the Gauteng province.

Further consultations

"Last week, the premier promised further consultations with all stakeholders, yet he still insists that motorists continue to pay e-tolls. By doing so, the premier unnecessarily dumps the people of Gauteng into further drawn-out review processes, which will inevitably lead to the same conclusion that e-tolls are unjust, and should be scrapped," says the DA.

The opposition also criticises the panel for its recommendation of a so-called "hybrid system where funding is sourced from tolls and other means", saying this is essentially a recommendation for e-tolling to remain when the vast majority of people oppose it.

"The panel's recommendation of a hybrid model overcomplicates an already uncertain funding regime - and still forces the public to pay through one 'stealth tax' after another. Shifting gantries around is not pro-poor in the least, as Makhura claims. It is anti-poor.

"E-tolls drive up the costs of goods and services, severely slow down economic growth, and hamper job creation. All residents, including the poor, will still pay for e-tolls through higher prices, lost jobs and restricted movement."

The DA claims the review panel process offered the people of Gauteng no relief and they will be forced to pay - "despite the premier promising otherwise".

"In his last State of the Province address, the premier acknowledged the need to review e-tolls, and many communities and stakeholders were consulted. The premier now has to take the next step and call for a provincial referendum in terms of Section 127 of the Constitution, asking only one question: Should e-tolls be scrapped?"

Support for referendum

Meanwhile, the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) says it supports the DA's call for a referendum on e-tolling, as it would be an all-inclusive process. "It will obviously tell us what we already know [that the public rejects e-tolling]. We have always supported the idea of a referendum," says Outa chairperson Wayne Duvenage.

Outa previously also criticised government and the advisory panel for ignoring the will of the people, and lashed out at the panel for its stance on civil disobedience. "At the outset, we reject the position taken by the panel that there is 'no justification for civil disobedience' and that 'boycotting e-tolls sets unsustainable precedents and threatens democracy and social cohesion'.

"In fact, government's illegitimate actions are perhaps, in general, and certainly in this situation, the greatest threat to democracy and the panel has ignored this point. Conscientious civil disobedience is morally justified and absolutely necessary when government ignores the will of the people on an unjust and irrational policy," says Outa.

Howard Dembovsky, chairperson of the Justice Project SA, is also in favour of a referendum, saying it should have been held before the inception of e-tolls, when it became clear there are was large-scale opposition to the system.

"The bottom line is: why is everyone avoiding the issue that e-tolls are unpopular and unwanted? That's perhaps why there is a need for a referendum. But it would have to be done solely among motor vehicle owners," says Dembovsky, explaining unaffected people - non-e-toll users - should not be making decisions on behalf of motorists.

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