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S.Africa govt goes to highest court over road tolls

The South African government has approached the Constitutional Court to appeal a ruling that stops the roll-out of tolls on major highways around Johannesburg, a statement said on Wednesday.

“The South African government is of the view that (the) judgement is an unprecedented intervention in public finance matters and is a fundamental breach of the division of powers as stipulated in the Constitution,” it said.

A High Court halted the polls after a civil group launched a court battle following national outcry over the system, criticised as expensive and unfair.

By approaching the highest court in the land, the government has bypassed the usual legal route of taking cases to the appeals court first.

Authorities hope the case will set a precedent to keep courts from meddling in government activities. A number of government decisions have been declared invalid after interest groups went to court recently.

Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan said in his application that failure to collect tolls would cause the national road agency to default on loans it acquired to upgrade the roads around capital city Pretoria and economic hub Johannesburg.

“The credit rating of South Africa would also be impacted on negatively, since SANRAL (South African National Roads Agency Limited) is a wholly government-owned entity,” he said in the affidavit quoted in the statement.

In his budget speech in February, Gordhan announced the government would kick in an extra 5.8 billion rands ($680 million) toward SANRAL’s 20 billion-rand debt.

Vehicles that use the freeways will be charged 0.3 rand per kilometre, which means a one-way journey from Johannesburg to Pretoria would cost 18 rands (two dollars).

Gordhan said road users should pay for the upgrades, not general tax payers who didn’t necessarily travel on the routes.

“Citizens who enjoy higher-than-standard infrastructure ought not, as a matter of policy, to be subsidised by others who do not,” he said in the court papers.