A big shoutout to Outa: hero of all us little guys out there
Since it won the e-tolls battle, the activist organisation is laying into government corruption on our behalf
Wayne Duvenage, CEO of Outa, is the face of South African civil action. He is tenacious, committed and unwavering, starting with the Gauteng roads e-tolling system, and now tackling the whole spectrum of local and national government incompetence and corruption.
Duvenage credits his team for such efforts, but as the public face of the e-tolls battle, his persistence in the toughest of times is truly valiant.
Speaking at the Free Market Foundation – another tenacious, committed and unwavering member of SA civil society – Duvenage says that just under a decade ago Sanral was undertaking significant road works.
“They were the heroes, addressing congestion. But then we learned of e-tolls and were incredulous that the extra lanes were to be charged for.”As then CEO of Avis, he engaged with industry colleagues, examining the many defects of such a system:Data would not be real-time;
Dispute resolution had not been addressed;
Studies showed that e-tolling only works in a compliant society with public buy-in;
There should be smooth connectivity with other accurate national databases, but half of eNatis is incorrect;
E-tolling had failed in Portugal and Texas, but worked in London and Stockholm where tolling was focused on public transport issues rather than on widening the roads.
The formation of Outa – in its original focus as Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance – and its numerous court battles and funding problems have been widely reported on. Duvenage says that the country was in need of civil disobedience, and e-tolls came at the right time.
“It was an easy matter on which to get public participation, because it was a tax that was difficult to collect. Unlike other taxes, people could continue to drive without paying e-tolls”.
Duvenage expresses serious disappointment at how big business started to defect as the e-tolls fight gained momentum. He was also advised on many occasions to shut down this cause as legal costs mounted, but he stood firm. He was adamant that government not be allowed to become the beneficiary of a deceptive campaign.When e-tolling was switched on in 2014, Outa then shifted its focus to urging motorists not to pay. The e-tolls concept is now a spent force, likely to be closed down just ahead of the upcoming general election as a means of gaining political points.
What about life after the successful e-tolls opposition?
Outa has now become the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, with a far wider mandate. Grossly dysfunctional municipalities and bankrupt SOEs are in its sights. It has a crowd funding model, a full-time staff of nearly 50 specialists that mirror government departments, and a legal team that will not cost a fortune.
“It’s tougher than managing 2,500 people at Avis” reflects Duvenage, emphasising that Outa is relevant to the people of South Africa, not to big business.
“The small to medium sized businesses are our huge supporters, as these are the guys who are here to stay. Big business unfortunately remains silent while government plunders the public purse, not wanting to risk losing state procurement opportunities.”
The metamorphosed Outa has a designated litigation war chest for its fights, laying charges against state institutions, politicians and ministers. No arrests have been made so far, but Duvenage comments that who is in power today may not be in power tomorrow and when the rule of law finally takes its course, many people will be in jail.He criticises the accounting standards used by the likes of Sanral, Transnet, Denel and Eskom, constantly revaluing their specialist assets in order to lift the balance sheet, which then facilitates their generous interest rate debts, backed by government guarantees.
“If these companies were listed on the JSE, they would never get funding.”
He is also scathing of the auditing profession in its current state. With civil society and the media taking on key oversight roles and being more relevant than ever, Duvenage implores media houses to sort out the taint of fake news.
On Cyril Ramaphosa, Duvenage looks forward to the 2019 elections, when the president will finally be able to let the rule of law prevail.
Chris Gilmour is an investment analyst