Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said on Thursday that Cabinet had reaffirmed its decision to fund the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) through a user-pay system.
He also said government remained open to further consultation, but stressed the need for the debt to be repaid and that the impasse needed to be resolved soon so that South Africa's financial position did not become worse.
In the interim, government was considering the introduction of an additional Appropriation Bill to assist South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) to meet its financial obligations in the short term. No value was placed on the value to the appropriation, but it was indicated that it could enable additional money to be allocated to the Transport Ministry, which would pass it on to Sanral so that it could meet its financial obligations.
Motlanthe was briefing the media on the GFIP, following an update report to Cabinet by the Inter-Ministerial Committee, which he chairs, on the contested project. The committee is made up of the Ministers of Finance, Transport, Environmental Affairs, Public Enterprises and the Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Monitoring and Evaluation.
Government has also made an application to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal a North Gauteng High Court interdict on April 28, preventing Sanral from collecting tolls on the recently upgraded GFIP motorways.
Opposition to the tolling remained fierce, having united disparate social groups, from motorists and freight hauliers, to unions and business owners. The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, or Outa, which sought and gained the interdict on April 28, had already expressed disappointment at the government’s decision to appeal, describing the tolling plans as inefficient and unjustified.
The National Treasury was currently working on the figures to assess whether an appropriation was necessary for Sanral, where the money could be sourced and for how long such support would endure.
Also addressing the briefing, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan indicated that the delay in tolling could cost Sanral up to R600-million a month and that the money to cover the utility's cash flow requirements might need to be raised through reductions in the budgets of other national departments.
He said the timeframe for such support was uncertain, owing to the legal process, with Motlanthe offering an "educated guess" of the legal process enduring until August next year.
But Gordhan spoke of possible support until year-end, as well as assisting Sanral with a key debt repayment, which would come due in January.
Should the R600-million figure prove correct, it implied support of R3.6-billion until year-end, which would be over-and-above the R5.75-billion bail-out already confirmed in the February Budget.
"Nothing we do will result in an increase in the deficit," Gordhan stressed, adding that all the allocations would take place within the "current fiscal envelope".
Government said it was aware that the cost of collection was an area of concern.
Gordhan estimated the cost of collection at 20% of the toll fee, but acknowledged that it would be higher during the start-up phase.
He said that it was satisfied that the 20% level was "low" when benchmarked against similar systems internationally.
But a technical briefing would be held to elaborate on the figures.