Johannesurg - Government coerced Gauteng motorists into paying R71bn for the administration of the controversial e-tolling system because the state misled the public into believing that the construction of roads was part of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the North Gauteng High Court heard on Monday.
R71bn is the amount motorists will be asked to pay in order for the state to administer the repayment of the R30bn loan it took to rebuild the roads.
This was the argument made by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) in court on Monday when the judicial review of the tolling system began in Pretoria.
Outa lawyer Mike Maritz SC, who spent the day arguing against the implementation of the system, said the government, and in particular Treasury and the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral), failed to inform the public about the extent of the construction and that motorists would have to fork out tolls, until it was too late.
Maritz argued that when Sanral notified the public of the intention to revamp roads in Gauteng it failed to inform the public about the magnitude of the project.
“This resulted from the dramatic failure on the part of Sanral to properly consult the public and this has resulted in a shambles where there’s a public outcry,” said Maritz.
He said Sanral documents showed that the only major consideration of the agency when constructing the roads was the looming 2010 soccer showpiece held in South Africa.
He said government had misled the public into believing that the gantries and the construction of the roads were part of the world cup and asked the court to disregard Sanral’s argument that the relief sought by Outa was outdated as the review was brought to the court late.
“The non-compliance by Sanral was not an accident ... Had they been unsuccessful in keeping the public in the dark there would have been a huge public outcry,” said Maritz.
He accused Sanral and the government of deliberately keeping the public in the dark by also gazetting the tariffs only after the road construction had been completed.
Maritz said it was procedurally unfair for government to only allow 82 people to be part of the consultations in 2007 that were the basis for Sanral to go ahead with the project.
Maritz said this limited number of people, of which only 32 attended the consultation and another 50 signed a petition against e-tolling, did not represent Gauteng residents who would have been affected by the decision to toll.
Maritz said the failure to offer motorists enough information at an early stage to make up their minds about whether to appeal against the tolling of roads was enough for the court to consider the review application and adjudicate on it.
The government and Sanral had since sent mixed messages that they would reconsider the tariffs, he said.
“To enforce payment of tolls will not be justified ... and the collection would be unlawful because it would be based on unlawful declaration of the notice to toll roads,” said Maritz.
The case has been set down for three days, until Wednesday, with Sanral and department of transport lawyers expected to respond to Outa’s submissions on Tuesday.
The Congress of SA Trade Unions is expected to hold marches in Pretoria and Johannesburg on Friday against the implementation of e-tolling, which has been widely rejected in various public consultations that took place early this month.
- City Press