E-tolling debacle a lack of collective effort

Perhaps to illustrate the difference between planning budgets for infrastructure development such as road development and the carrying out the such projects in the field, a comparison to the e-tolling debacle might be considered as somewhat cruel but nevertheless it does clearly illustrate that where the sum of R20bn is flying about, there’s a lot more to e-tolling than just building gantries.

Mostly, it’s because projects such as this involve people and where people are involved what is needed is a collective effort. The hiatus now represents an example of one government department “doing its own thing” without reference up or down with provinces or even sideways with national treasury.

Indeed, aside from co-ordination between government departments, which is difficult at best, is the question of talking to people.  In the case of the new Gauteng Highway Tolling System, government has found itself totally on the wrong side with consumers; consumer bodies; chambers of commerce; COSATU; the judiciary; and even sections of the ANC, let alone a taxi and bus industry only just mollified from strike action by exemption from tolls.

The reason given for the impasse now being experienced is that the financial deal struck, and subsequently signed for, is in default and the interest charge for “nothing to happen” is breathtaking.

Sadly, the investment world has been watching, coming as the debacle does with some extraordinary statements by Lucky Montana, CEO of PRASA, to parliamentarians on the manufacture and purchase of R300m in passenger railway coaches.

Deputy minister of transport, Jeremy Cronin, who provided oversight on the financial horrors of the Road Accident Fund, said it all in an article in the Sunday Times.

He was discussing how history comes back regularly to haunt us in South Africa and that the flippant dismissal of the weight of our past on our collective present is unhelpful. “We have been left in South Africa”, he said, “with a toxic mix of poor accountability, weak capacity and an inadequate public service ethos.  There is a need to appreciate the collective effort required to transform our often dysfunctional reality.”

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