South Africa's Constitutional Court over-rules Pretoria judge's injunction against start of Gauteng tolls but talks continue with toll critics
By Peter Samuel
2012-09-28: The South African government is moving ahead with the all-electronic toll system - known there as e-toll - that was put on hold just days before it was due to start April 30. September 20 the country's Constitutional Court overruled a Pretoria judge who blocked the start of an extensive new toll system in the Johannesburg/Pretoria metro area April 28, just two days before the start day.
The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the national Treasury department and the South Africa National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) which petitioned against the injunction (called there an 'interdict'.)
At issue is an all-electronic toll system set up on 185km or 115 miles of urban expressway in the country's major metro area known as Gauteng - which includes the major cities of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Soweto, a population of some 9 million people.
The Court said the Pretoria judge erred in encroaching on the power of the legislature and the executive.
"Absent any proof of unlawfulness or fraud or corruption, the power and the prerogative to formulate and implement policy on how to finance public projects reside in the exclusive domain of the national executive, subject to budgetary appropriations by Parliament," wrote deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke in a ruling that was unanimous.
SANRAL and the national Treasury argued that the injunction preventing tolls imposed intolerable costs in terms of lost revenue and difficulty in fulfilling contracts that could damage the country's reputation as a safe place to invest.
Tolls are needed to service debt incurred in some R21b, $2.7b of highway upgrades built in anticipation of toll revenues.
The government welcomed the court decision, transport minister George Mahlalala saying in a statement: "(The) Government remains convinced about the appropriateness of the Gauteng (Toll) Improvement project with the user-pay principle as part of our country's investment in road infrastructure and our collective drive to grow the economy."
Tolls are opposed by COSATU the major labor union federation and a business group Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA). Following the court decision government officials have been engaged in discussions with toll opponents trying to find some compromise.
Toll rates may be reduced in the early years or more discounts offered but the tolls are now almost certain to proceed in some form.
The toll system was designed, built, and will be operated by Kapsch under contract to SANRAL.