OUR broke government intends to complete the construction of 30 tollgates by year end to, as Transport minister Obert Mpofu rather euphemistically put it, increase revenue inflows that would go towards critical road maintenance.
From a less abstract perspective, the added revenue inflows comprise additional taxes for an overburdened citizenry — already among the highest taxed on the planet — in the form of tollgate fees ostensibly for road repair and upkeep. The same citizenry reeling from an obdurate economic crisis articulated through unemployment, poor service delivery and general infrastructure decay, among others.
Mpofu has also disclosed he has been in discussions with city councils on what appears to be a mostly local but unpopular initiative — urban tollgates — over the modalities of setting them up, with a pilot project earmarked for Harare.
As you would expect given the country’s liquidity crunch there is already a battle over the proceeds of the urban tollgates, with Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni insisting the city, not Zinara, should collect the revenues.
“Just like in South Africa we understand the move (to introduce urban tollgates) will face resistance from the community but we hope it will sail through,” Mpofu said of urban tolling.
In the face of sustained resistance from commuters and labour unions to e-tolling fees on highways around Johannesburg and Pretoria, the South African government this week partially backed down by cutting charges on highways around the two cities by up to 50% per month, but the battle is far from over.
South africa’s e-toll system is an emotive cost recovery strategy by the South African National Roads Agency Limited to repay the loan taken to improve the country’s freeways (broad highway designed for high-speed traffic) for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
The main bone of contention is that the system mostly affects African working class motorists residing at the peripheries of the urban areas in townships who are faced with the daily charges of the e-tolls, or have to use alternative congested and longer routes compared to wealthy fellow citizens in close proximity to the centres of cities.
For that reason the Congress of South African Trade Union and other organisations held numerous protests before the launching of the e-toll system to demonstrate their resistance to the scheme introduced in 2013.
Mpofu might as well gird his loins for tough resistance to his fundraising plan, no matter how well intentioned; Zimbabweans at large have already strongly spoken out against the plan.
Before implementation government must take a leaf from the South African backlash by consulting all stakeholders and conducting research to inform the final decision. The revenue imperative must not prevail to the exclusion all other pertinent factors.
In any case, urban tolling in itself is not the panacea to revenue shortfalls. Government urgently needs to take the bold measures — now common cause — prescribed by investors, lenders and even “all-weather friend” China to attract investment so as to rescue the sinking economy, thus widening the revenue base.