CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) — Charging motorists to use existing roads is immoral, and the new toll-road system in South Africa should be suspended immediately, said the justice and peace department of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

South Africa’s Parliament is set to pass a bill that will amend the law on road tolls and allow for the electronic collection of tolls and the prosecution of those who fail to pay.

“Existing freeways, which serve as the main arterial routes within the economic hub of our country, have been appropriated to create toll roads, while no viable alternative routes exist,” said a May 22 statement signed by Bishop Abel Gabuza of Kimberley and Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg.

“This is a serious abdication of government responsibility for public property,” it said.

The government insists that charging tolls is the only viable way to pay for the maintenance of the country’s freeways.

The “massive escalations in cost” of the road upgrades that led to the toll system “indicate that some serious investigations need to be initiated regarding possible corruption or price-fixing,” the bishops said.

They called for an immediate independent inquiry and said motorists should not pay the toll fees “until all the matters of concern have been addressed appropriately.”

The bishops noted “widespread public concern, protest and unhappiness” at the government’s decision and said there had been inadequate public consultations about the system.

“When it appears that the cost of a solution being implemented by government to address a need is highly inappropriate, then it is the duty of all concerned people to demand explanation. Brushing this aside by citing the need for confidentiality breeds suspicion,” they said.

The toll fees will raise the cost of living, which will “inevitably hurt the poorest among us, at a time when there have been far too many attacks on their ability to survive,” the bishops said.

They noted that the government is failing to address South Africa’s “desperate need” for an affordable, integrated public transport system.