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Finance minister warns: Sanral must reverse ‘very bad’ decision on e-toll debt

South Africa’s Finance Minister Tito Mboweni who has been speaking up lately, has stated says he is “very unhappy” with the Sanral board’s decision to temporarily suspend summonses to recover e-toll debt and that it must be reversed “immediately”.

The minister was speaking at a briefing where Treasury introduced its new SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter.

Mboweni was commenting on e-tolls at the briefing.

“It is a very bad decision,” he said.

Earlier, the board of the embattled SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) has resolved to suspend the process of pursuing e-toll debt with immediate effect.

This includes historic debt and summonses applied for from 2015, the agency said in a brief statement on Wednesday. The board passed the urgent resolution during a meeting held on Tuesday.

Sanral’s e-tolling project, which was launched in December 2013, has largely been a failure as a result of low levels of compliance from Gauteng motorists. Subsequently, the agency has struggled with low revenues and rising debt levels.

In its statement on Tuesday, Sanral said the board resolved that given the initiative led by President Cyril Ramaphosa to address the e-tolls payment impasse, it will, with immediate effect, suspend the process of pursuing e-toll debt.

“No new summonses will be applied for … this decision will be constantly monitored by the board and reviewed according to prevailing circumstances,” the statement said.

There have been growing calls for the government to scrap the e-toll system. Late in 2018, transport minister Blade Nzimande insisted in the National Assembly that the government had not made a decision to do away with e-tolls in Gauteng. This was after Gauteng premier David Makhura had said that e-tolls needed to be scrapped, and that they had no future in the province as long as the ANC was in charge.

Nzimande said at the time that Ramaphosa had instructed him to talk to stakeholders in a bid to resolve the impasse of non-payment of e-tolls, which threatened the finances of Sanral and the continued maintenance of roads infrastructure.

“We owe an amount in today’s terms of R67bn. That’s the amount we owe on the building of these wonderful freeways. The issue is, who is going to pay and how are we going to pay?” he said.

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