Submission by a group of Church Leaders to the Advisory Panel on e-tolls- 2nd Sept 2014
We are here as a number of individual church leaders who have engaged with this issue on many occasions over the past eighteen months. We have raised our concerns about this issue as separate churches and, on occasion, as a grouping of church leaders who have interacted with Government at Cabinet level.
We have done so in order to make it clear that we are very concerned about the way in which opposition to this important infrastructural project has been handled. We made it clear, in our various interactions with Cabinet members, that as Churches (or individual Church Leaders) we are not attempting to present ourselves as experts on the technology underpinning the solution that was adopted – or as experts on the economics underpinning the rationale promoted by Sanral. Our interactions made it clear that, in this respect at least, we were in the same position as many of the politicians on the other side of the table.
Our concerns have always been with a number of key moral issues that emerge from this project and the way in which it has been implemented and more particularly – the way in which opposition to it has been dealt with.
We will submit copies of some of the correspondence between us and the Cabinet committee, as well as various other pivotal documents that emerged during such deliberations, for the panel to peruse, but here are some of the key issues ;
• There is deep and widespread concern about the potential impact of e-tolling upon the poor, directly and indirectly, and many bodies in civil society remain unconvinced about reassurances received in this regard
• The public remains broadly unconvinced about the integrity of the processes of planning, consultation, contracting, and management which have been followed around the GFIP – despite all the arguments and assurances which have been given. The revelations that have emerged from the competitions commission, on top of the history of large increases in the cost of the GFIP project, enhance the perceptions of price-fixing and underhand dealings,
• It appears to us that e-tolling has become a lightning rod for public dissatisfaction around entirely other public projects; nonetheless, the distrust persists and will poison the public mind against co-operation with any attempt to impose the tolls,
• The accountability of government to the expressed will of the people. In this case, as in many others, the government is perceived as being determined to push ahead with their plans regardless of what opposition may exist,
• Are public funds being utilised appropriately? The adoption of a funding mechanism (the e-tolls) that entails large costs of collection when there are alternatives that will not entail any new costs, increase the concerns of ordinary people,
• The adoption of a tolling system that will effectively reserve the use of the mainroads for those who can afford to use them, in a situation where no viable alternative routes exist, seems grossly unfair. When put in the context of the absence of an affordable, integrated public transport system that can cater for the needs of the majority of our people, this kind of expenditure on projects reserved for those who can afford them – like the Gautrain and the tolled GFIP (as essential as they may be) – appear grossly insensitive and unreasonable.
It is in this context that the establishment of this panel – and its terms of reference (as detailed in your letter of invitation) are of some concern to us. We have no doubt that it arises out of concern to find a solution – a way forward – but its focus appears misdirected.
This is no longer a technical issue – and it is certainly not an academic issue.
The facts are that the implementation of this project has resulted in;
• Widespreadrejection of this solution to our infrastructure needs – not because those rejecting the solution reject the need for such infrastructure – but because of the way that government has chosen to fund it. This rejection has led to massive civil disobedience, that appears to have somehow transcended our usual social divides – racial divides – class divides – religious divides. These all seem to be irrelevant to the ‘across-the-board’ rejection of this way of funding our roads
• The alienation of broad sections of the people of this province, many of whom have expressed their dismay at the way in which their government is completely ignoring their concerns. This is of great concern to us, as it reinforces situations where people feel that the only way in which their grievances are taken account of, is if they take direct action themselves. This contributes to undermining the legitimacy of many of our institutions and even that of government itself
• Widespread suspicion of the motives that led to the adoption of such a costly solution and of the actors involved in the implementation of such a solution. While in-depth investigations by independent auditors may assist in uncovering the full extent of such corruption, it is far too late for this to be adopted as the only way forward. This whole system has to be suspended – a new approach has to be adopted to financing the GFIP project – this has to happen quickly and transparently to mitigate the possible negative consequences on our economy – and then we can take the time to properly investigate what actually happened and how it happened
This is a crisis of legitimacy with widespread social and political ramifications.
It is not a situation that will be resolved by somehow uncovering new facts or new analyses.
Government needs to re-think its approach to the concerns of ordinary people.
The fact is that many people do not trust those promoting this project and such trust is not easily regained.
When we met with the Cabinet committee, it was acknowledged that they face a situation where trust is lacking – where they are facing a situation where ‘the facts’ alone (whatever they might be) are not enough to convince those who are rejecting this project.
This needs to be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.
We appreciate your time and your efforts to assist the Premier of this province in his attempts to find a suitable way out of this impasse.
A Original Statement issued by the SACBC Justice and Peace Department – 6th Jun 2013
B A discussion paper that summarised Sanral/Govnt views and crits of these – 13th Aug 2013
C Press release by Chruch leaders after 2 meetings with cabinet committee – 26th Sep 2013 – along
with two letters sent to Deputy Pres Motlanthe between those meetings – 14th and 25th Sep 2013
D Press Release by Church Leaders – 10th October 2013
E Statement and notes of proceedings at press conference by Church leaders refusing to pay e-tolls –
1st Dec 2013