Martin Young
Martin Young

Something’s fishy in the state of Sanral

Call SA’s national ANC government nothing but determined! In the face of widespread opposition against the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) and e-tolling, even from the ANC’s own Gauteng legislature, Cyril Ramaphosa has come up with a “rescue plan”.

The details of this plan have seen the expected opposition from Outa (Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance), along with a firm suggestion that the ANC is playing a risky game with voters coming up to the 2016 local government election.

Despite this, Sanral is insistent and the ANC seems determined to go ahead with e-tolling in any form, despite the risk of losing substantial political power. May I point out that this is highly unlike the ANC, usually incapable of taking the “right” decision if it risks offending sensitive supporters? Witness the absence of action against Goodwill Zwelithini, who was blamed for inciting xenophobic action leading to the murder of foreigners, or inaction against powerful unions determined to compromise mining and education sectors. Doing something certain to upset its highly vocal urban support base is an unusual move, and I have to wonder why, given that the alternatives supported by Outa are so easy to implement and acceptable to all the public?

In addition, the solution offered by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa linking e-toll fees to vehicle registrations sets an uncomfortable precedent, joining two unrelated civil services to coerce individuals to furnish the income of one. If this is a workable and practical solution, why has it not been used to collect traffic fines? What stops this model being adopted by other departments? For example SARS could place a block on home affairs services and not issue passports and death certificates until an individual’s taxes are fully compliant. Or stop them leaving the country at immigration, meaning Julius Malema among others would be unable to travel. Or if an individual had unpaid Eskom bills, pensions and social welfare grants could be held back? It’s a ridiculous scenario, but one that has begun in the currently proposed e-tolling arrangement. Why has this alarming scenario even been suggested, except to acknowledge that Sanral and the ANC are desperate to see e-tolling work?

I checked Sanral’s description of itself on its own website: “The South African National Roads Agency SOC Limited, generally known as Sanral, is an independent, statutory company registered in terms of the Companies Act. The South African government, represented by the minister of transport, is the sole shareholder and owner of Sanral.”

So Sanral is a parastatal, and clearly associated with government. Why involve the deputy president in this saga when clearly it is the minister of transport’s responsibility? Doesn’t Ramaphosa here represent the ANC far more than he represents national government? Where is the separation of the two powers (party and government) to make such a vital decision to our country economically, rationally and ethically informed?

The only reasonable reason I can think of is that highly placed people within the ruling elite have interests in seeing South Africa’s roads e-tolled. And that these gains for individuals are worth conceding both the ANC’s power in government and remaining moral credibility, not to mention risking an already fragile economy.

Sanral has faced allegations of corruption here and here and here before. The track record of other parastatals in doing business, especially with Luthuli House, is not exemplary. Corruption remains a damaging legacy of today’s ANC, particularly when all measures possible are taken to avoid taking responsibility and prosecution.

Call me alarmist if you will, but there’s something very fishy in the state of Sanral. South Africans must insist that every Sanral action is scrutinised by those with real interest in protecting the public, those like journalists, the public protector, opposition politicians, and concerned citizen activists.

On the other hand Sanral may well have nothing to hide. Let Sanral prove this by being transparent and open to investigation.

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