THE Road Freight Association (RFA) has called for the billions of rands collected by government each year via the fuel levy to be “ringfenced” and used to fix and maintain South Africa’s deteriorating roads.
“The steady and continual downward trend of the condition of our roads needs to be reversed as a matter of urgency,” said the association’s Chief Executive, Gavin Kelly.
He cited a recently-released report titled South Africa’s Road Construction Industry – A Regional Look by consulting company Frost & Sullivan, which revealed 54% of the country’s unpaved road network is in poor to very poor condition, while 30% of the paved network is in poor to very poor condition. The internationally accepted norm is that not more than 10% of a road network should be described as poor to very poor.
“A well-maintained road network is critical for South Africa. Roads are the arteries of the country – allowing people and goods to move – for business, career, pleasure, or personal reasons. They are crucial to the development of any nation and are the foundation to alleviating poverty and facilitating the move of individuals to… where there are better opportunities,” Kelly said.
He said it was a mistake to think that the only roads that matter are multi-lane national roads. “Whilst they are, of course, exceptionally important, the rural infrastructure is what gets all of the agricultural, mining and first level manufactured goods to the processing / manufacturing centres. Without these roads – and many of these are dirt (gravel) roads – we will not be able to feed ourselves.”
He said that in towns and cities, the road networks allow greater movement of society as well as for the movement of crucial items, including medical supplies.
Kelly underlined the importance of good roads with the example of Dairy giant Clover’s recent decision to relocate South Africa’s biggest cheese factory in Lichtenburg in the North West province to Durban because of poor service delivery from the local municipality, including its alleged failure to maintain the road to the factory.
He said the SA National Roads Agency Ltd (SANRAL) is currently responsible for just over 22,000km of paved roads, or 3.6% of the road network and only 6% can be described as condition poor to very poor, mostly as a result of provincial roads recently handed over to SANRAL to manage.
“Roads MUST be maintained. Once they fall into disrepair, the rate of accidents will increase, the cost of maintenance will spiral,” Kelly said noting that in the freight sector those costs will be passed on to the consumer, “as there is no other choice”.
He said roads should be funded by the general fuel levy (GFL). “If this levy had been applied solely to roads in the manner required many years ago, this would have ensured that periodic maintenance would occur, and we would not have such ‘devastated’ roads as we now experience.”
He said that as at April 2021, the GFL was R3.93 per litre, or approximately 23% of the retail price of petrol and it was estimated that the GFL would deliver R86 billion to the treasury.
“The fuel levy should be ringfenced and allocated to SANRAL. This agency can hold various road authorities accountable, whilst also providing expertise, assistance in identifying reliable road contractors, as well as engineering support.
“The Portfolio Committee on Transport and a public oversight body – similar to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa but not a state-owned entity – should then hold the Minister of Transport accountable for the state of the roads and ensure that the maintenance, repair and development occur as required,” Kelly said.