Picture: DANIEL BORN
Picture: DANIEL BORN

RESIDENTS of Gauteng will no longer start paying freeway e-tolls this year after the controversial Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill was on Thursday virtually at the last minute withdrawn from the National Assembly order paper.

Shortly after the Assembly convened on Thursday afternoon, the African National Congress (ANC) asked that two resolutions paving the way for the bill to be debated later in the day be withdrawn. No reasons were given and the House agreed to the request.

The draft law is necessary to allow for electronic toll collection and for a differentiated tariff regime that would give discounts to e-tag holders. When passed, it would empower the government to collect tolls on Gauteng freeways to pay the R20bn it still owes for their development.

Earlier this week, the Congress of South African Trade Unions had warned the legislature that if the bill was not withdrawn and e-tolling scrapped, there would be protest action on November 30.

On Wednesday, house chairman Cedric Frolick announced in the National Assembly that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe had written to Parliament on November 13 asking for the bill to be fast-tracked, meaning that it would skip normal procedures for the consideration of a new law.

The Democratic Alliance (DA), Inkatha Freedom Party, Freedom Front Plus and the Congress of the People objected to it being included on the agenda of the Assembly’s last sitting of the year.

In a statement later on Thursday, DA spokesman Ian Ollis claimed "pressure from opposition parties" had pressed the ANC to withdraw the bill.

"After a call by DA chief whip Watty Watson that was supported by other parties, and a threat from the opposition to stage a walkout during the debate on the e-toll bill, the ANC withdrew the bill this afternoon," he said. "This means that the Gauteng e-toll will not be the anticipated lump of coal in Christmas stockings this year."

The committee’s deliberations on the bill will now continue in the new year. It can only be considered when Parliament reconvenes on February 10, and will then be sent to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

"This is indeed a victory for opposition parties and the South African public," Mr Ollis said. "We will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that all proper processes are followed when this bill is considered by Parliament in 2013 and that adequate public participation has taken place through the NCOP."

With Sapa and Paul Vecchiatto