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Motlanthe: Sanral debt repayments urgent

May 31 2012 12:58 Sapa

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Cape Town - The government is considering introducing an appropriations bill to give Sanral a cash injection to allow it to service its R20bn debt, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said on Thursday.

Failure to meet the SA National Roads Agency Ltd's debt repayments while the legal battle over e-tolling in Gauteng continued would have dire consequences for the roads agency and the country, he said.

"Government has to look at other ways of servicing that debt, which means taking away money from other allocations... hence the consideration of introducing this special bill to enable government to continue keeping Sanral in a healthy state of servicing the debt."

Motlanthe, who chairs an inter-ministerial committee handling the Sanral crisis, side-stepped a question on how much money would be allocated to the agency.

On April 28, the High Court in Pretoria handed down an order preventing Sanral from levying or collecting e-tolls pending the outcome of a judicial review.

Moody's Investors Service subsequently cut Sanral's credit rating status to Baa2 with a negative outlook.

Last week, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan approached the Constitutional Court in a bid to set aside the court order halting e-tolling.

Gordhan regarded his request as so urgent that he asked Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to convene the Constitutional Court during its annual July recess to hear the application.

Motlanthe argued, as Gordhan did in his application to the court, that High Court Judge Bill Prinsloo had ignored the principle of separation of powers.

"We take the view that the court judge Prinsloo over-stepped the line in terms of essentially imposing a moratorium on the collection of fees, which has huge implications, because Sanral has contractual obligations," he said.

"If there is delay in payment, the period is reduced and so it creates very serious financial challenges to government as a whole."

Responding to a question, Motlanthe re-affirmed Cabinet's decision to impose the e-tolling system.

"As of now, the decision of Cabinet stands," he said.

Cabinet appointed the special committee a month ago to co-ordinate the government's response to the court judgment and ensure Sanral's financial stability was not compromised.

On the appropriations bill that was being considered, Gordhan told journalists at Thursday's briefing that this could cover the period up to the end of this year.

Moody's estimate was that Sanral would lose R270m a month for each month toll fees are not collected.

"That could increase, if you take certain operational costs and so on, by some estimates R500m to R600m per month.

"We could be looking at a period of between now to the end of the year, including any debt repayments that Sanral has to undertake, and we believe there is a payment due in January (next year) that will also have to be taken care of," he said.

The additional appropriations bill under consideration "will try to take the next period - of possibly six months or so - and give both Sanral and its debtors the assurance that government is setting aside the money to meet the cash flow requirements of Sanral."

Gordhan emphasised that the budget deficit would not be increased.

"Let me say very emphatically... that nothing that we do is going to increase our deficit. Everything... will be within the current fiscal envelope.

"The deficit remains intact and we'll have to find the money in some other way. That would mean either raising user-charges, or taxes, or 'haircuts' in government, or whatever the case might be. We'll see what the best option (will be)," he said.

Earlier, responding to a question, he said government did not know where the money would be found.

"We don't know yet; there is a range of options. All are being examined at the moment. We're trying to get a better handle on the numbers, so that we can make the judgement call."

He noted that parliament would soon go into recess, "so when we come back, we'll have a better idea of whether we need the additional bill, where we're going to get the money from, and what are the amounts which need to be allocated to Sanral". 

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