ETC’s e-tolls debt recovery claims are outrageous – JPSA

JOHANNESBURG – Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) has noted the outrageous claims being made by Electronic Toll Collection (Pty) senior executives, Jamie Surkont and Mark Ridgeway with respect to planned “e-tolls debt recovery” methodologies they are allegedly implementing on behalf of SANRAL which were made just two days after Gauteng Premier, David Makhura alleged that people are not paying e-tolls “because they are unaffordable” in his SOPA address.

It is extraordinary to note that ETC’s plans to approach the courts is alleged to be commencing in “two weeks’ time”. The 60% discount on outstanding e-tolls which commenced in November 2015 expires on 1 May 2016, yet ETC is, according to its own assertions, jumping the gun by proceeding to issue summonses a full 6 weeks prior to this expiry date.

It is bizarre that people are being expected to believe that motor dealers whose industry is dependent on having salable stock to sell would have approached ETC to create the so-called “vehicle listing” which would severely hamper their ability to sell second hand motor vehicles. This claim could be likened to saying that it was Radovan Krejcir who approached legislators to make dealing in narcotics and engaging in organised crime offences. In light of this, we hereby call upon ETC to provide proof of their claim that it was the second hand motor industry which approached them and not the other way around, or at all.

It is further extraordinary to note that all of this is allegedly to happen ahead of any outcome of the legality of issuing invoices derived out of the use of electronic equipment which is not compliant with and/or approved for use in terms of the former Trade Metrology Act and current Legal Metrology Act. As things stand, there is significant evidence of the fact that not only is SANRAL’s electronic equipment not compliant with the provisions of legislation they are not exempt from, but that they failed to acquire exemption from the provisions of the Legal Metrology Act when they tried to do so.

While SANRAL was sure to have itself exempted from the National Credit Act so it may abuse legislation intended to protect consumers from reckless lending and becoming over-indebted; it has not done similar in terms of the Legal Metrology Act and until such time that it can prove that it is compliant therewith, it must be presumed to be acting in violation of that Act and indeed, illegally.

Should the outcome of the Freedom Front Plus’ complaint to the National Consumer Commission which is based on substantial, reliable evidence that SANRAL is not compliant with the Legal Metrology Act be that invoices generated using noncompliant electronic measuring equipment are deemed to be illegal and in the meantime, courts have granted judgments against so-called “debtors” and ordered them to pay, it goes without saying that not only will the civil claims for refunds and compensation undoubtedly represent one of the biggest of its kind ever in South Africa’s history, but the legitimacy of the courts also come into serious question.

Despite the fact that ETC is acting on behalf of SANRAL, it is doubtful that they will be able to hide behind SANRAL’s status of being a State Owned Company by using arguments some lawyers for the State have become fond of using where it is claimed that should the court order refunds for illegal actions, “service delivery will be adversely affected” should the court be approached to compel refunds and compensation to those who have paid.

The actions of ETC and SANRAL can easily be associated the crime of extortion, which is prohibited in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. Just because their current weapons of choice are debt collectors, the SANRAL Act and the e-Road Regulations read in isolation of any other legislation, as opposed to kidnapping, guns and boiling kettles does not change things.

We remind everyone that their previous weapon of choice was to threaten people with criminal records for non-payment of e-tolls and that they even tried to misrepresent the conviction of Mr Stoyan Stoychev for number plate fraud as being the “first e-tolls conviction”. Since the publication of draft AARTO Regulations amendments in December 2015, this has been abandoned in favour of the new weapons of choice.

It’s a pity that SANRAL and ETC have chosen to act in this manner and appear to possess an insatiable appetite for acting as thugs and violating the laws and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. They are not above the law and should be dealt with accordingly. We look forward to that day.