The proposal by the Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Obert Mpofu to introduce urban tollgates came at a wrong time when Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) and city councils are hogging the limelight for the wrong reasons.
Shockingly, Zinara was the ultimate winner of ZNCC 2014 Top Parastatal of the year despite media reports suggesting that endemic corruption, mismanagement, lack of transparency and accountability are the order of the day at Zinara and city councils.
Despite all this, the minister remained steadfast and is aggressively pushing Zinara, which is mandated by law, to act on the issue. Zinara collects in excess of US$5,5 million per month from 26 tollgates, and around US$130 million annually from road access fees, vehicle licensing, transit fees, and fuel levy, among other revenue streams.
For the record, nothing has been justifiably explained on the use of the money and the manner in which tenders are awarded to contractors.
Suggesting that the introduction of urban tollgates will decongest cities is not a basis to hurriedly introduce urban tollgates without exhaustively consulting the affected parties; the motorists and commuters. Meetings with Zinara management and city council officials do not constitute consultations.
These are business deals far off from discussing the real issues on the impact of introducing urban tollgates on the commuters.
Proper consultations must be done with members of various interested and affected bodies, including public meetings with motorists and commuters.
What is even more worrying for motorists and commuters is the fact that not much has been done to improve the state of the roads in urban areas. Many roads are in appalling state. Potholes are all over and continue to pose a threat to lives of the motorists and commuters. Vehicles are susceptible to various mechanical faults which increase maintenance costs for the motorists.
According to the Road Traffic reports, many accidents that have claimed the lives of people are caused by potholes and the deteriorating conditions of the roads.
From opinions offered so far, the only motivating factor for the minister and Zinara to introduce urban tollgates is to collect money.
While maintaining roads and attending to potholes are some of the reasons sighted for the move, the way Zinara has been operating cast doubt on those intentions. What is more worrying is that time and again, the media is awash with negative news on Zinara affairs.
Cases of corruption, mismanagement, lack of accountability, abuse and misuse of funds and property are issues Zinara is now synonymous with. As a result, the public no longer has faith in the organisation and its programmes. The minister must address this issue and ensure the public is fairly treated.
If the government wants urban tollgate fees from motorists and commuters, he must act on Zinara to publicise its plans, financials and performance. Motorists and commuters are major stakeholders because they finance Zinara operations and have every reason to demand accountability and quarterly updates on finances.
The urban tollgate programme being pursued by Mpofu requires a vibrant public transport system. Where there is no proper system, it creates inauspicious transport despondency that affects motorists and commuters who have to spend more time on the roads and bear increased travelling costs to and from work.
Companies and organisations are affected as a result of employees reporting late for work due to transport delays at tollgates. Without a vibrant public transport system, the programme is just as good as dead.
Whilst the system works well in other countries, our environment is different. There is a need to adjust in line with our road network system and economy.
A major key success factor in such countries is the efficient operation of public transport system. There are buses, trains and other transport alternatives with clear schedules that are adhered to and offer wide commuting options for the public.
The situation in Zimbabwe is different. The government owned public transport companies like Zupco and National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) are struggling and failing to provide affordable and efficient transport services to commuters. Zupco which once flourished has been run down amid allegations of corruption and looting by top executives. On the other hand, the NRZ is teettering on the brink of collapse, weighed down by debts and obsolete equipment. To then introduce urban tollgates without addressing these transport issues is being over ambitious. It is like putting the cart before the horse.
The problem with most policy makers is that they are exempted or exempt themselves from paying such fees. In the end, the poor end up forking out more from the little they have.
How many parliamentarians, ministers, councillors and chiefs pay tollgate fees? Certainly not many pay, yet they are the ones shouting the loudest for urban tollgates to be introduced.
That introducing tollgates in urban centres will raise money to finance infrastructural development and decongest the city centres, and reduce carbon emissions, is far from convincing. In Harare alone, there are 7 000 parking bays. If all the parking bays are occupied, Harare City Parking collects US$7 000 per hour? Where is that money going? On top of that, the minister wants Zinara to introduce urban tollgates to collect more money?
Zinara is a public entity that must be transparent and accountable to the citizens of Zimbabwe. It must publicise its budget and account for every cent collection, than just being there to force motorist to comply. Perennial problems arising from lack of accountability, transparency, maladministration, misappropriation, corruption, poor control mechanisms and revenue leaks must be addressed.
Mpofu therefore needs to address diminishing confidence over the entire toll gate revenue collection process through inculcating a culture of accountability and transparency.
Also the growing public outcry over the distribution of the proceeds from the toll gates has been undemocratic and inequitable to the extent that the distribution of the money was done with little regard to its intended use, does not help Mpofu’s case.
There is also speculation that the treasury tap into the Road Fund to support the bloated civil servants staff complement. This reflects a deteriorating fiscal crisis, in which government ends up employing desperate measures to take more from the poor.
The tollgate pricing model needs to be revised. Zinara and city councils need to engage all concerned parties in public debates, be it on radio, TV and conduct roadshows to get the views and concerns of the people. They must be prepared to consult widely before they introduce the urban tollgates.
Kwaramba is the principal executive consultant (Human Resources Consultant) for Capacity Consultancy Group “NEW PERSPECTIVES” articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society (ZES). Email kadenge.zes@gmail; cell +263 772 382 852