Open access peer-reviewed chapter

South African E-Toll Consultation SAGA: Corporate Governance Lessons for Public Consultation in Mega-Projects

Written By

Nthatisi Khatleli

Submitted: 14 June 2021 Reviewed: 04 February 2022 Published: 25 May 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.103054

From the Edited Volume

Corporate Governance - Recent Advances and Perspectives

Edited by Okechukwu Lawrence Emeagwali and Feyza Bhatti

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Abstract

Mega-projects have unfortunately gained a bad name the world over. The electronic-tolling project in Johannesburg called the GFIP (Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project) is one such project. The perfunctory consultation initiative in an environment where the legislation is not robust and the corporate governance is still fledging led to opportunistic behaviours characterised by malicious compliance. The take home lesson especially in these high dollar projects is to be prescriptive on the consultation process that is backed by a well-thought-out legal framework. The scrutiny of documents and interviewing all the stakeholders was insightful and instructive even to other jurisdictions. Notably that a shallow and limited consultation drive is counter-productive. For a consultation drive to yield desired results it has to be deliberate, aggressive and tailor-made to suit contextual exigencies.

Keywords

  • corporate governance
  • E-tolling
  • mega projects
  • public consultation
  • South Africa

1. Introduction

The network of freeways in Johannesburg has reached its peak, in a province that contributes about 38% to the GDP [1]. There was a lot of ballyhoo around the roll out of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP). South African National Roads Agency Ltd. (SANRAL) is charged with managing all the main roads linking all the economic hubs, towns and small villages. The national network is used for economic advancement, tourism, social upliftment and unlocking financial possibilities [1]. The Government Gazette [2], the SANRAL and National Roads Act, 1998 (South Africa, Act No. 7 1998) [3] as publicised by the Government Notice No. 30912 of 28 March 2008 [4] authorises SANRAL to charge user fees on specific roads in Johannesburg. The roads are N1 sections 20 and 21, N3 section 12, N4 section 1 and N12 sections 18 and 19. Government Notice No. 31273 as of 28 July 2008 [5] added R21 sections 1 and 2. SANRAL is equally tasked with capping the toll charges on motorists and the monitoring thereof.

On its completion, the project to uplift the web of roads in and around Gauteng metros was meant to increase the breadth of the road to four lanes and sometimes to six [6]. The project was phased such that the first part was to refurbish the existing 185 km stretch and the second part was to construct and/or refurbish a further 376 km. The chief benefit of the scheme is to smoothen the traffic flow at critical interchanges (ibid.). The first encompasses Allandale, Rivonia, William Nicol, Gillooly’s and Elands intersections. What will be provided at final completion is an Intelligent Transport System (ITS) based on cameras, the median lighting, smart electronic boards together with the latest traffic management enhancements (ibid.). These improvements are meant to deliver efficient traffic flow and lessen gridlocks as accidents-induced bottlenecks will be disseminated to road users to avoid idle time.

Electronic Toll Collection otherwise known as E-Toll was adopted. This system works by an e-tag displayed on the windscreen of a vehicle. The vehicles are not required to stop at gantries in these e-roads as this Open Road Tolling (ORT) allows the tags to be electronically recognised and read automatically. This toll collection system not only deducts the pre-loaded money on the e-tag transponders but they also recognises the vehicle number plate. If the driver does not have an account with SANRAL the bill is send via post to their address, the number plate would have been recognised in front and at the back and link to a person registered as the owner of the vehicle. The gantry equipment also enables it to measure the vehicle for classification purposes. Gauteng has 43 gantries along the N1, N3, N12 and R21. These overhead gantries are spaced approximately every 10 km (or between interchanges) [7].

The scheme was buffeted from all side from the get go by diverse organisations. The groupings decrying its unconstitutionality are religious associations, civic organisations and political parties; two groupings notably stood apart in their opposition. These groupings are Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) and Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). OUTA emerged as an association of haulage lorries owners and car hire companies owners in Johannesburg. This association has evolved and adopted a new identity christening itself Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse whilst retaining the original acronym, as it has now morphed so many interests seeking to root out any tax abuse incidents by authorities. OUTA constitution treats the tolling of the GFIP, as unacceptable due to what it considers to have been a shallow and consultation process with respect to the private companies and the general populace. OUTA advocates against overburdening the local populace with more taxes when there is already an escalation of fuel prices. Furthermore, the adverse ramifications on the Gauteng economy because of the extra cost of the private project management during its operation; opaqueness on the calculation of the charges; how the collected funds will be utilised; worries about the finer details that are not debated properly like the curbing number cloning and protection of citizens privacy as private companies will access their bank details; legal legitimacies of seeming ceding of public Gauteng assets to SANRAL; environmental imperatives due to the envisaged congestions due to the small number of alternative roads [8]. The general populace’s perception and the strategies utilised to consult them was the goal of this study. The lessons garnered here will be instructive in future similar projects. This is pertinently so as this speaks directly to corporate governance in South Africa.

Corporate governance is concerned with how corporate problems are dealt with among diverse stakeholders. It seeks to solidify predictable reconciliation protocols for myriad disputes where there are conflicting interests among claimholders [9]. This is a quest to ensuring that there are appropriate processes and controls balancing the smorgasbord of interests from among others the employees, customers and the community [10]. Institutions/companies that adhere and advance good corporate governance are hardly in the news because good corporate governance reduces scandals that the tabloids thrive on. So a very well-structured corporate governance structure should focus on four P’s of corporate governance which are people, process, performance and purpose [11]. The study looks at the process of public consultation and the regard of the general populace in implementing the E-toll project.

The aim of the study was to assess the extensiveness of the public consultation process for the GFIP project. With the objectives geared toward investigate the public engagement methods deployed during the project. To determine the main purpose of the public engagement process; identify any alignment with international best practice. And finally to consolidate the lessons for future improved consultation initiatives.

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2. Literature review

2.1 Defining tolling

Tolling is a charge one incurs for using a facility availed for public usage. The most popular format is a charge for utilising a road or a part thereof, known as a per-use fee. For a very long time the charges were based on the tare or the number of axels on a vehicle plus the length of the stretch of the road used. Lately, in some projects the charges differ depending on the time of the day. The revenue thus collected is ploughed back into the project for expansion, for the operation and the maintenance of the facility as well [12]. Norway for instance has 48 tolling roads in operation which generate a lot of income for the rollout of future projects, as they generate about 25–30% of the total national road construction budget. Tolling has been very successful in Norway for over 50 years [13]. Experiences in Norway, France and other countries are a testament that success is rooted in widespread meaningful public consultation.

There is a variant to the traditional approach to tolling which involves varying the charges depending on the demand. This approach has other names like value pricing, peak-period pricing, congestion pricing or market-based pricing. This approach parrots the pricing of airline tickets, cell phone calls billing and electricity usage charges. Congestion charging not only is a source of income, but demand is managed as non-essential trips could be postponed when the rates are low thus easing the unnecessary gridlocks. The market forces can thus be harnessed to lessen time wastage, reduction of unnecessary toxic emissions and avoidance of accidents [12].

2.2 Urban tolling in other countries

  1. There are four congestion pricing strategies that utilising tolling. The first is Priced Managed Lanes, also called “partial facility”, where designated lanes in both directions are set apart as high priority and priced higher than the general purpose lanes. If the traffic artery is prone to high congestion these lanes ease traffic as they are reserved for transit riders, High Occupation Vehicle (HOV) motorists and paying non-HOV drivers.

  2. Priced Highways: here the prices vary for per peak vs. off peak hours ala passenger rail pricing. It has successfully been implemented in Lee County Florida where there is 50% discount if customers travel between 6:30–7 am, 9–11 am, and 2–4 pm [12].

  3. Priced Zones (area or cordon pricing): the benefit with this is that driving within a demarcated area attracts a fee within certain hours thus reducing non-essential travel. The options for levying charges range from time specific charging to the size of vehicle used. The levies could be done each time the vehicle passes or aggregated within 24-hour period. Since 2003 London has adopted a 24-hour approach where a set figure is charged within an identified zone in central London. Several concessions do exist including a 90% discount for residents [12].

  4. Priced Road Networks: A selected number of lanes is priced. Although a first of its kind in the world, it has been in operation in Singapore in the mornings since 1975. The system transitioned to full automation in 1988 and it brings in about US$70 million for the city whilst operation costs are only 7% of that. Entering the CBD also attracts another area pricing charge during the weekdays [12].

The SANRAL submissions in all forums where they defend their approach do not show any awareness of these alternatives or how far they were explored and compared against each other. The public consultation should have been based on these tried and tested alternatives and their potential adaptability to the South African socio-economic climate. The next section will deal with the issue of Public Consultation.

2.3 Public consultation

The International Association for Public Participation (IAPP) regards public participation as the co-opting of the views of the general populace in formulating the final decision on matters that affect them. When the participation is meaningful the decisions are sustainable [14]. The public participation could be strategize to include workshops, public meetings, open houses, surveys, citizen’s advisory committees, polling and any acceptable public engagements (ibid.).

Many a time there is focus on technical performance of the infrastructure whilst ignoring a plethora of other considerations that enhance the project performance. The local communities as the ultimate consumers must be regarded as the main consideration before implementation. The clients’ welfare should top the list of considerations, the day-to-day managers of the facility, the design and maintenance teams, the construction team and suppliers. Each decision by one group will almost inevitably affect others higher up in the development pyramid. The easiest way to keep the popular kickback due to resistance is to have an all-encompassing involvement. Burroghs [15] posits that despite the sometimes negative media influence, the general populace deploy common sense when given full information. Although the public is the ultimate fanancier of the project through taxes and user-fees, however, they are often not taken seriously especially when there is no binding legislation to do so in a jurisdiction [16]. Some commentators on this issue are clear that consultation sometimes forces transparency on the projects especially around cost which might work against the project if it is too high. Opaqueness is used strategically for selfish purposes to ensure buy-in from decision-makers. This has resulted in a bad reputation of the construction industry where megaprojects in particular are characterised by runaway costs [15].

Consultation by definition a two-way process of dialogue between the project company and its stakeholders. The interaction should be implemented from the start and sustained throughout tenure of the project as a way to get a ‘social licence to operate’ from the general populace [17]. Smith [18] clarifies that “public participation” involves a slew of processes meant to involve and educate the people so that they can have a meaningful input. Rowe and Frewer [19] reemphasizes that “input” is the key word, as this shows that there is an intention to hear the other side. Consultation should be grounded in a neo-institutionalist perspective that focuses on intrinsic firm’s regulations and rules touching the city’s management when it comes to consultation and popular involvement fashion [20]. The emerging interventions including citizens focus groups in different forms encourage lively interactions in a democratic dispensation to reach all-inclusive decisions [21].

The IFC [17] suggests that a good plan is critical before starting the initiative, as that will help identify key stakeholders and issues vexing them about the development. A Stakeholder Engagement Plan is indispensable where there are a number of stakeholders with diverse concerns and issues. It is one thing to listen to people but although that is encouraged, there must be firm assurances that their input will somehow be incorporated (ibid.). The implementation plan for consultation should be communicated well. It will appear from many complaints from the members of the public that perhaps the simplest principles of public consultation for a project of the GFIP magnitude were not properly followed.

After surveying 25 countries the OECD came to the conclusion that governance impediments are besetting the consultation throughout the life cycle of the project. Most countries in the study do not have an overarching strategy but have sectoralized the implementation of the initiatives. Due to their nature infrastructure projects are susceptible to corruption, capture and abuse throughout their lifetime [22]. Although most countries are aware of this weakness they are slow in coming up with robust integrity fostering instruments. Even where they exist there is in some jurisdictions notable political interference in prioritising projects and who to consult. A very poor consultation could even frustrate the implementation of an otherwise good project. Consultation is common and concentrated in the preparation phase, but it is less common in cementing an overall vision or assessing needs. The consultation process according to the OECD [22] should be consumerate to the project magnitude and its wider public impact mindful of the concerns of the key stakeholders. The process of consultation should be broad-based, designed to elicit dialogue and be piggybacked on the public access to information and users’ needs. The new technological advancement make consultation easy as there is no need to be in one place [23]. Any communication aimed at the general populace should be conducted early to have any impact. If people are not aware of the from an early stage, they may feel that their sentiments have deliberately been overlooked when it matters the most and the consultation is simply an afterthought or a tickbox exercise without any meaningful substance. When the general public is alienated this increases the number of objections resulting in costly delays and other complications. It is imperative with large projects that all options are laid on the table as the emotions are likely to run high in local communities.

This research was inspired by an earlier study conducted by Leromanachou et al. [13] and it also took lessons from the study taken by OECD [22] in 25 countries to see the lessons that can be drawn by a developing democracy like South Africa, which is a middle income country with a fledging consultation framework.

2.4 Corporate governance

The essence of corporate governance encapsulates the day to day operational functioning of a business. Van Wyk and Chege [24] are among authors who have decried the lackadaisical approach in the construction industry vis-à-vis other economic sectors. Corporate governance upholds the sacrosanct business principles of fairness, accountability and transparency [25]. The crux of the matter here is to assess whether there was fairness and transparency in the implementation of this scheme in Gauteng. What is at issue is whether the Gauteng government was fair and transparent in implementing the E-toll project in Johannesburg. If for something reason they could have been wanting in this regard, then corporate governance principles were not adhered to.

Since corporate governance provides a framework for achieving objectives, it encapsulates invariably every aspect of the organisation business. This invariably involve the action plans, including inside controls up to how performance is measured and corporate disclosure [11]. This means that governance should include ethical behaviour, corporate strategy, compensation and risk management (ditto). At the heart of corporate governance (CG) is the agency problem, where there is a separation of ownership and control [26]. The SANRAL agency was supposed to be representing the government, but if there is poor corporate governance the idealistic government’s aspirations might not have been carried through.

The Gauteng E-toll project is the biggest project of its kind and it is implemented in an environment where megaprojects are relatively a new phenomenon in South Africa. That said it means some elements of megaprojects were manifested when it came to corporate governance issues. Due to the uniqueness of each individual project (Gauteng e-toll project being the first in South Africa) and the complexity of navigating the different expectations the project was from the get go a risky undertaking [27, 28]. Secondly megaprojects are multilevel structures where a balance has to be struck between conflicting interest at every stage [29]. The third point is that the utilisation of mega-money creates a fertile ground for all manner of unethical and exploitative behaviours [30, 31]. Fourthly megaprojects are a fertile ground for what are called black swans events. These are events that are so unexpected in a particular context, but which events are triggered by the sheer complexity of the project [32]. Biesenthal [27] argues that the multiplicity of stakeholders, the complexity of projects and the exploitative tendencies of some players lead to information being withheld or wrong information disseminated. Especially when it comes to issues of scope, risks, objectives, costs and schedule. These challenges are exacerbated by social, political and cultural challenges. According to Flyvbjerg ([33], p. 6) all this means that megaprojects should not be treated as “magnified versions of smaller projects” but as different projects with different demands, problems, power dynamics and structures.

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3. Research methodology

The study wished to garner the awareness together with the amenability of the citizenry to the GFIP’s tolling and given this problem a mixed method qualitative was the preferable route. The end-users were critical in providing the necessary insights. To this end researchers were sent to strategic catchment places like shopping malls to conduct a survey of the motorists’ sentiments. The questionnaires were also deployed extensively to deal with the quantitative dimension of the strategy, thus making the overarching approach a mixed method. Officials from various organisations were also interviewed to provide some depth in understanding the problem in its totality. Maxwell [34] argues that implementing a qualitative approach is not a copy and paste job. For the qualitative approach to be implemented properly one needs to be iterative as one navigates different components of the design, as the different parts inform and impact one another. Qualitative approach has no definite starting point and does not move linearly through a series of steps, rather it relies on the dynamism of the situation and the components introduced to deal with it [34]. So the design is inspired by the environment and reacts to it. The following methods were regarded as the most suitable. The thematic content analysis advocated by Burnard [35] was adopted for this study. This in turn is inspired by Glase and Strauss’s [36] Grounded Theory and other approaches utilising content analysis used by the likes of Berg [37]. In order to ensure validity members of the team not involved with the actual interviewing of respondents were tasked with the reading of the transcripts, coding and categorising of the themes [35].

It is a requirement for any research to get clearance here at the University of the Witwatersrand and this was complied with. The key stakeholders vehemently resisting the GFIP tolling were interviewed first. These were COSATU, a trade union representing the working masses and OUTA members. It was easy to identify the individuals from these organisation as they have been vociferous in the media, and they were more than willing to cooperate. Unfortunately, the agency involved was not ready to cooperate, as there were juristic disputations underway. Their public stance was that they did what needed to be done and they complied fully with the regulation. What was deemed important here was the depth and breadth of the data and this called for an active role in data collection [38]. To achieve this insight, individuals were interviewed who had studied the project documents, challenged its legitimacy through juristic disputations, mobilised the citizenry to resist complying with its precepts by instigating mass protests and mass media agitations. Frey and Oishi [39] define an interview as an interaction between two parties that is intended to illicit information on a topic of interest. Following Nichols [40] take on this, if the researcher wants to go open-ended they make the conversation to be as informal as possible by not even coming with a list of questions so that there is a natural flow in the interaction. Thus this study went for open-ended interviews because the researcher can thrust deep into the topic by submitting follow-up questions to get more information [38]. These in-depth follow-up enhance the quality of data thus gathered.

One thousand and eight hundred respondents participated at the three shopping malls in Gauteng. The malls were identified due to their wide catchment areas, popularity and size. Motorists were engaged with in the parking lots as they alighted their vehicles. Not all respondents filled all the questions, they skipped those they were not comfortable in fielding. Questionnaires are known as a formal list of questions used to elicit information from a sample group. What the researcher wants to know he/she converts into a set of questions that could be responded to by willing respondents. Questionnaires are generally used as a main tool for the collection of primary quantitative data [41]. The main benefit of a questionnaire is that data collected is standardised and thus making it consistent and easy to analyse. It could actually be regarded as a standard text interview dealing with all the subjects [42]. Whereas with other methods like interviews the same response could be put in different ways, with questionnaires there is simplicity and succinctness. This simplicity enhances analysis. What was really the focus of the enquiry was how early the citizenry were made aware of the project and to gauge their overriding sentiment toward e-tolling. The SurveyMonkey software package proved useful in providing a rounded analysis as it can enable a plethora of linkages. The SurveyMonkey was used to upload the data manually once the physical forms were completed by respondents.

The research’s methodological inclination was largely inspired by Leromanachou et al. [13] in understanding tolling in Norway where respondents included the public company dealing with infrastructure and leaders at the local level.

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4. Results and discussion

Below are some of the excerpts from the interviews with the leading protagonists against e-tolling. These assisted in eliciting themes that came out strongly during the deliberations.

4.1 Lack of transparency

Respondent one: when preparing the start of a project of this size you have to carry everyone along. With the GFIP during the early days, robust engagement should have been had with all the stakeholders. The two issues that needed discussion were to ensure that the public understands that the infrastructure needs improvement and also the methods available for financing this development. On both fronts there was a serious dereliction by the authorities. During the build-up to the world cup there were many projects that were intended to upgrade infrastructure and enhance the successful hosting. The GFIP was largely regarded as a legacy project.

It is clear from the response that the project hid behind the world cup hype and was not distinctly marketed as a stand-alone development requiring public financing through e-tolling. This shallow consultation led the public to make wrong conclusions about the scheme. Had the authorities been transparent the debate would have revolved around the most appropriate financing model for the project.

SANRAl was very conservative in sharing information on financing the project especially during the build-up to the world cup. SANRAL has always known their preferred financing model from the onset and they should have taken everyone on-board from the get go.

It is clear from the above different available methods of financing this project were never divulged to the general populace.

4.2 Poor planning

Tolling success is by law justifiable if there are alternave routes nearby. In a case such as this where those are already grid-locked with traffic it appears as if people are forced to use the tolled road.

There was no attempt to improve the alternative routes to make them veritable options. So the state is accused of compelling motorists to use the tolled route out of necessity.

4.3 State’s profligacy

How exactly does the state manage infrastructure implementation? In as much as it is known that the funds are scarce but there is a lot of wastage in the system, the curbing of which could improve the provision.

Some subjects/respondents like the one quoted above were knowledgeable on state’s management of resources. The mentioning of wastage in the system clearly showed that in some quarters tolling is regarded as unnecessary as improving the stewardship of public funds could make funding straightforward.

4.4 Lack of transparency

Respondent number two: planning behemothic schemes like this one which are supported by public tolling requires consultation and consent from the populace, because this is some form of taxation. Since e-tolling is not manual where only payers could be allowed to proceed, willingness and buy-in are very crucial in ensuring compliance. Laws are generally as good as they are administrable. So putting one in place where enforceability is not guaranteed is a futile exercise. This ambitious project is implemented in a climate of utter mistrust against the government, where there is also grinding poverty among the masses. The rampant non-compliance thus introduced will lead to the upright citizens just subsidising the flouters.

This response is in concert with the one before in that it advocates for implementing public consultation before anything else. The issue of lack of trust between the state and the people came up as a result of the repressive past in South Africa. What heightens the mistrust is if consultation comes very late in the project’s implementation process. Low compliance creates a situation where the compliant members of the public are actually subsidising the rest.

Here is the question I would to pose to SANRAL: is this an extra tax? There should be very strict laws governing levying the public on anything, before a thoroughgoingly robust consultation process. Otherwise, the agitation thus instigated could lead to a mass disobedience.

There are societies and people acting independently inviting the government to arrest them as they are not willing to pay for the e-tolling. The legal fraternity has jumped into the bandwagon with at least one firm prepared to provide a pro bono service to anyone arrested for defiance. Although the issue has not been tested in the courts the mass resistance is a clear and present danger. It is 2021 now, not a single case of non-compliance has been brought before the courts.

4.5 Poor planning

In the Western Cape a similar project was tried early in 2000s but all the stakeholders, poured cold water on the initiative. This project, which was supposed to run along the garden route, was ultimately abandoned.

Since proper protocols were implemented it is surprising why the same was not done here. If it was not acceptable in a second largest city in the country, lessons could have been learned and the consultation could have been more intensive, more transparent and more prolonged to allow the proper exchange of ideas.

4.6 Malicious compliance

What was done in Johannesburg was the opposite of what was attempted before. One advert was placed in six papers in 2007 October. Just that one advert is all they did. The advert did not elaborate on the methodology of implementation, pricing or any other information that could elicit an objection or further enquiry. As a result, only 28 submissions were made one of which was a petition with 34 signatures. To make things worse they claim they received 85 responses… I do not care even if it was 185, we are talking about 2.5 million motorists here overall. Now with those appalling numbers they moved on convincing themselves that they did all they had to do. It was a classic tick-box exercise.

The dissemination of information about the impending development was very handicapped and the general populace was not afforded the chance to ruminate over the legitimacy of the scheme and its funding methods. Choosing six papers that do not have the widest circulation and again placing the adverts in awkward sections without much publicity was not going to attract a lot of input it appears. The respondent further divulged this information just shared.

The legislation stipulates that during consultation the net has to be cast as wide as possible and a minimum 30 days has to be afforded the public for their responses. The law allows the authorities to go up to 60 or 90 days in consulting the stakeholders. Considering that the project is the biggest of its kind in the world, and also that this is the African economic hub where the roads were free to use all along, that level of consultation is shockingly poor. All the critical stakeholders including haulage companies, vehicle rental sector, the disabled community and the AA were not in the loop from the onset. The inputs and opinions of these organisations is very crucial.

The very poor stakeholder analysis and identification led to a very stiff resistance from civil organisations like OUTA, as this development was disadvantageous to their businesses. It appears SANRAL did the barest minimum required which appeared not to have been adequate given the size of the project and its importance not only to the province, but regionally as well. Gauteng is the economic hub of the sub-continent beyond the frontiers of South Africa.

Below are the responses to some of the questions pertinent to public consultations that were contained in a questionnaire distributed to Gauteng residents (Figures 1 and 2).

  • The majority (78%) of residents did not know that the consultation meetings were happening. This is indicative of a very poor marketing. Only 22% of the respondents were aware which is not really encouraging.

  • Four percentage of the respondents rated the consultation process highly but an overwhelming majority at around 65% rated it poorly as they asserted that it was very bad. Two segments each comprising 15% of the respondents rated it moderately and good, respectively (Figures 3 and 4).

  • When a question was posed to the respondents as to why they did not attend the consultation meetings. Most respondents at 44% claimed they were too busy followed by 34% who testified that it would not have made any difference. The other reasons that would have thought could attract more responses like the meetings were too far, too soon (without prior notice) or too late in the day were not cited as the main reasons. This is all indicative of a population that is disenchanted with the government approach to infrastructure implementation.

  • Only 13% of the respondents were aware that the gantries were for the tolling project and around 60% did not think much about them. They are the first in the country and they can easily be confused with any of the big electronic sign boards. It is not surprising that 12% thought they were a new design of signboards. There other 14% started enquiring to find out what they were. SANRAL could have been more proactive in teaching the public about the project and its infrastructure.

Figure 1.

Public responses from the survey.

Figure 2.

Public responses from the survey.

Figure 3.

Public responses from the survey.

Figure 4.

Public responses from the survey.

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5. Findings

The leading resisters to urban tolling were clearly of the different approaches that could have been deployed. The shallow and limited consultation process was a major deficiency in the implementation of the GFIP. This finding agrees with OECD [22] conclusion which motivates for a wide ranging consultation. As much as South Africa is not a first world country but internet connectivity is comparatively high and yet this was not sufficiently explored [23] as recommended by others. Instead traditional face-to-face methods were preferred and insistence on, which given the dissonance with the public, were actually a waste of time. Interviewees demonstrated a wide range of knowledge and awareness of viable alternatives, giving an impression that any serious engagement could have yielded a consensus on a suitable financing model. The OECD [22] further suggests that the consultation process should be proportional to the size of the project as intimated by one of the respondents that in a province of 2.5 million motorists (actually the registered cars on the eNatis system are 4, 643 741) that was not enough. However, the poor corporate governance around SANRAL might have encourage this opaqueness. The principal principles of fairness and transparency were not extolled as advocated by Nurlizzah and Binti [25].

Once the initial consultation was concluded there were no far reaching follow-up initiatives, leaving the citizenry not being able to distinguish the GPFIP infrastructure from the soccer world cup developments that were happening at the same time leading up to 2010. If only 85 people at most were engaged with, in a pool of around 4 million and the newspapers selected were not even the ones with the widest circulation then the purpose was a poor tick box exercise. Where there appears to have been a huge success over the years is where there is extensive public consultation [13]. South Africa has to learn and try to engage a lot more with the general populace to avoid a disaster that this project has become. The hype around the world cup and the legacy projects implemented at the time misled the general populace into lumping any major development as part of the legacy developments. However, a very poor marketing by SANRAL led to a major public disappointment when the truth was finally revealed. The perceived ‘suddenness’ of the introduction of the project occasioned by a lack of platform to mull over this project has compromised the ‘psychological contract’ the people of Gauteng might have had with the GFIP. The foregoing has made it clear that South Africa is far from deploying international best practice as the consultation programme was a failure. The project is very costly as the compliance rate in paying the e-tolls is very low as it is now estimated at around 20%, and the highest it has ever been in terms of people buying e-tags is put at around 40%. The best approach is to allocate enough time and resources to public consultation and really find what works in the South African context. There is a lot that can be drawn from the political sphere on how to engage with the different communities in the country. It is clear that the challenges are the same despite the advancement of a democracy in question. The level of resistance in South Africa is found in other developed countries and there is a lot that can be burrowed in terms of the best practices based on good democratic principles. The process has to be fair, transparent, adequate, aligned with the local culture and must be legally enforceable. There is not adequate legislative stipulation to put pressure on the officials in South Africa to implement public consultation in a meaningful manner. This poor corporate governance regiment leads to the observed agency problems alluded to by Amitava [26]. Any project that will finally require direct payment from the users is regarded as some form of taxation and robust engagement must be had to clear all the misunderstandings. If that is not achieved the economic viability of the project gets adversely affected. This is pertinently so in a country with very politically restive general populace. The main lesson is where a project is massive and it is complex there is bound to be black swans popping up, occasioned by commercial and political considerations. Any project that is oblivious to these cultural and political exigencies is bound to suffer as shown by Biesenthal [27] and Flyvbjerg [33]. Thus a very weak corporate governance has been exposed as direct result of the implementation of this project; epecially, around the issue of public consultation.

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6. Conclusions

The Improvement of Gauteng freeways is a very noble endeavour and it was long overdue. It appears as if SANRAL in its implementation of GFIP did not abide by the basic principles of soliciting a “psychological contract” with the residents of Gauteng. However, a very weak corporate governance was potentially a breeding ground for the majority of the problems that were observed. The following have been identified as the concerns and sentiments of the major stakeholders and residents.

The consultation process was woefully hollow and was just a compliance exercise with no genuine intent to elicit public input. There was and still is a lot opaqueness on the financing models preferred and adopted by SANRAL. The widespread non-compliance is indicative of a general dissatisfaction with the transparency around this project. The implementation of the project for then longest time was piggybacked on the world euphoria as it was regarded as one of the legacy project. Even in the aftermath of the world cup there was no concerted effort to spread the true message about the financing of this scheme. The few consultation forums organised before the project was implemented were not well marketed and were held in arkwardly located venues. The hitherto unheard of rolling juristic disputations are a sign of poor communication by SANRAL and adversarial interactions needing the interventions of the courts.

SANRAL has to formulate an extensive public consultation protocol which has to be legislative in order to ensure compliance. Thus, there has to be proper and deliberate bolstering of the corporate governance in public consultation implementation in South Africa henceforth.

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Written By

Nthatisi Khatleli

Submitted: 14 June 2021 Reviewed: 04 February 2022 Published: 25 May 2022