Current Affairs - E-tolls: Civic duty or civil disobedience?
E-tolls is an emotive issue. Whilst everybody I know and have spoken to is opposed to the initiative, there is a deep divide as to how to deal with the problem. Any reasonable person would agree that the roads need to be maintained and in some cases need to be upgraded.
SANRAL maintains that the E-tolls are necessary for the upgrading and maintenance of the national roads in Gauteng and I have no doubt that should this project be successful, we will find it being rolled out nationally.
I certainly think that SANRAL and the key role players in government have taken a decision on a major policy without any real regard to the effect on the economy. This project is sure to fuel inflation and the cost of living will increase. In my view, we are being penalised for SANRAL’s poor fiscal management and planning, much like consumers are bearing the brunt of Eskom’s failure to plan for the future.
OUTA argues that a small increase in the fuel levy would have provided the much needed funds which I find hard to understand as it is SANRAL that draws from the fuel levy for the maintenance and upgrading of our national roads.Many people are frustrated by issues of corruption such as Nkandla and I feel that this indicates that the government is financial inept. The question they ask is, when is enough, enough? And what can we do about it?
E-tolls are a part of the law and as an attorney, I am precluded from advocating that people break the law, no matter how unjust the law may be. I may, however, set out the legal position and leave it for you to decide.
You do not have to register for E-tolls. I am not registered and I will not being doing so. SANRAL are on the charm offensive and lay out many benefits for doing so, namely cheaper rates and ease of use of their system. They need you to register for their convenience. Once you have registered they have all your details and it is much easier to track you and get you to pay. It is worth noting though, that SANRAL has not complied with the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act.
If you decide not to register, SANRAL will be forced to use the eNATIS system to track you as the only link they have to you is the registration plate on your vehicle. SANRAL must issue you a statement in writing, it does not have to be by registered post, as is the case with a traffic fine. Many people have received SMS’s but this is not legal service and SANRAL says that this is simply done as a courtesy.
You also have the right to query the statements that they have sent you. Generally, an account is sent to you which outlines all your charges and then only one picture. I suggest that you write SANRAL an email or letter requesting that they provide you a detailed statement with pictures to match each log entry. I have done so and all I have received is an automated response.
It is your right to do so and again I believe that SANRAL are trying to sidestep provisions of the Consumer Protection Act. There is no obligation on you to pay until they have replied to your queries.
Failing to pay your E-toll account is an offence. They have included a criminal provision in the Act. This means that it MAY be a criminal offence. I have a difficulty with this, from a legal point of view. I don’t think you can charge people criminally for the failure to pay what is considered to be a civil debt.
The onus will be on SANRAL to first prove that you used the road as alleged and then they will have to prove that you intentionally broke the law. Provided that you have sent the email or letter as stated above, they will fail on both counts because the argument will be made that they have not complied with their obligations.
If payment is not possible and you believe you should be exempted from E-tolls, there is a process whereby you can apply for this. Most notably, Checkers has applied for their fleet and as yet no response has been furnished. I encourage you to make the effort to apply for exemption.
In conclusion, you have a choice to make:
- Register and pay.
- Don’t register and pay, as you will be billed.
- Don’t register and diligently query your account, thereby fighting the system from within.
- Don’t register and don’t pay. As OUTA put it, just ignore them.
- Don’t register and apply for an exemption.
If all else fails, it is an election year.