The South African National Roads Agency came under fire in Parliament for being “economical with the truth” about its ability to collect almost R11 billion in outstanding e-tolls.
MPs from across the political spectrum in Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday lashed out at Sanral over irregular expenditure of R1.1 billion it incurred in the 2015-2016 financial year due to non-compliance with legal prescripts.
This multimillion rand irregular expenditure is seemingly just the tip of the iceberg.
The Democratic Alliance grilled Sanral over outstanding e-toll fees that the agency reflected as an asset in its books.
DA MP Tim Brauteseth told Sanral officials and board chairperson Roshan Morar: “You and I know that money is not collectable.
People of Gauteng have stood up and said they are not paying, so it’s not collectable unless you are going to sue all of them and drag them out of their houses kicking and screaming and effectively cause a civil war in Johannesburg.
“So you cannot reflect that as an asset. I understand that it impacts who invests in you, but I think you are being economical with the truth.”
DA MP Davis Ross also said that, in light of this and the “shocking R11 billion in outstanding e-toll debt”, the whole balance sheet of Sanral had been placed in a problematic situation.
“We can clearly see they are trying to balance the books in terms of this – the going concern issue.”
Ross said what was needed was an independent investigation into whether Sanral was a going concern.
“We believe that only 20% of users on these roads are paying.”
Ross also expressed concern about the more than R200 billion in re-evaluated assets that had been included in the balance sheet.
“We are also concerned that there may be methodologies used to inflate their asset base. We will have to look at whether this balance sheet is not being inflated and whether it is correct.”
According to him, irregular expenditure this year already stood at R2.7 billion, including the R1.1 billion of the previous financial year.
Ross said Scopa may need to appoint auditors to work with the office of the Auditor-General on an independent investigation into Sanral’s irregular spending and its assets.
Morar, said Sanral would do everything in its power to collect the outstanding e-toll fees.
Morar said he was unable at this time to say they are not going to collect or they are going to collect the money.
“The [chief financial officer] confirmed that collection in the last few months slightly increased. We are positive that in time we will see a gradual increase. There is thus a positive there and in terms of our own projections we will get commitment by the public to pay.”
The e-toll system was launched in 2013 in Gauteng amid a public outcry over fees.
Wayne Duvenage, spokesperson of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) said even if there was a slight upturn in the collection rate it was still less than 20% of the total number of people passing under the e-toll gantries.
“That means debt continues to climb.”
Duvenhage accused Sanral of “dereliction of duty to the country”.
“If Sanral cannot collect that debt it cannot reflect it as an asset – it’s a liability and in that respect their books are false and they are misleading the country.”
ANC MP Mnayami Booi, told Sanral officials their “attitude towards the law is problematic”.
“You have no regard for the law, given your attitude on what the AG (Auditor-General) has captured on R1,1 billion of irregular expenditure.”
Booi also accused Sanral of “going against government policy on black economic empowerment and “derailing BEEE” due to the methodology on pricing they use for tenders.
According to him non-compliance with government policy equates to breaking the law.
“Would you resign if we come to this conclusion with the law enforcement agencies, that you have no regard for the law?” he asked Morar.