THERE is a joke doing the rounds on social media to the effect that in Zimbabwe we no longer keep left or drive in the left hand lane, but on what is left of the road.
Some drivers contend that driving through some of the country’s roads, more so in the capital, Harare, is akin to navigating a complex maze. The streets are pockmarked with potholes forcing drivers to constantly stop, encroach onto the lanes of oncoming traffic and twist and turn as they desperately vie for smooth passage.
Negotiating the rutted and mostly narrow roads is a dangerous game as many have been involved in head-on collisions while trying to avoid potholes.
After many years of neglect, some potholes have widened into craters, damaging many vehicles.
It may not be a laughing matter, but a joke doing the rounds on social media surmises that “our” potholes deserve to be listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
As has become the norm every rainy season, the potholes have become more pronounced because of the rains. These include major roads such as Arcturus Road, off Enterprise Road, and parts of Seke Road, among others.
Major highways like the Harare-Beitbridge road are also littered with potholes. It has become common to see cars parked by the roadside after plunging into potholes and bursting tyres.
The Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara), tasked with maintaining the road network, has done very little to fix the country’s roads despite its enthusiasm in revenue collection.
Motorists now feel overburdened as there is a proposal supported by the ministries of Transport and Local Government to introduce urban tollgates.
In addition, proposals to introduce a road maintenance fee for motorists following inadequate allocations from Zinara are being discussed.
Naturally, motorists want roads fixed, but they are questioning why they should be subjected to additional taxation yet they are already parting with a fortune at existing tollgates.
A motorist travelling between Bulawayo and Harare has to pay US$10 as tollgate fees for the journey. Motorists are questioning where the tollgate revenue and the vehicle licencing fees charged by Zinara are going to, given the poor state of the majority of the country’s roads. There are also questions on what the local authorities are doing with revenue generated through street parking, parkades, as well as vehicle clamping and towing, which has become fashionable especially in Harare.
Should the money not be ring-fenced and only used for the maintenance, rehabilitation and upgrading of roads and not be diverted or abused by government, ruling Zanu PF and the local authorities ahead of the 2018 general elections?
Zinara collects around US$130 million annually from road access fees, vehicle licencing, transit fees and fuel levy, among other revenue streams.
Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni told our sister paper, The Standard, this week that failure by Zinara to allocate the local authority enough funds was the main reason why Harare had many potholes.
“Roads are used by vehicles whose owners pay licence fees towards road maintenance and they expect trafficable roads from their money, which is vanishing at Zinara. We want the funds for the maintenance of our road infrastructure. We expect between US$40 million and US$70 million per year from Zinara, not just US$1 million.
Where is our Harare money?” Manyenyeni said.
He added: “With Zinara playing casino games with vehicle licence funds, the only way our roads can be maintained is through direct government funding or to squeeze the suffering Zimbabweans of more money. If these two don’t happen, you can brace yourselves for worse and worse.”
Manyenyeni said Harare has a road network of over 6 000km needing attention and city council needs US$500 million for the maintenance of roads.
Zinara chairperson Albert Mugabe on Tuesday said while he did not dispute that funds disbursed to local authorities are inadequate, the City of Harare cannot absolve themselves of blame.
“Blaming one another does not solve anything. The money they receive should be used qualitatively. When you look at Bulawayo, which receives less money than Harare, you can clearly see that they are stretching every dollar without compromising on quality. City of Harare collects money for parking which logically should be channelled towards municipal road maintenance. They are collecting advertising fees from billboards targeting motorists,” Mugabe said.
“If these funds were injected back into the goose that is laying these golden eggs to augment Zinara’s efforts, we could improve the situation. The state of our roads demands concerted efforts from all stakeholders.
“The greatest cause of road damage in Zimbabwe is poor drainage. This is exacerbated in Harare by blocked drains and waterways due to uncollected garbage. In as much as it is the city’s responsibility to collect refuse, citizens too should desist from littering as that litter ends up clogging the drains.”
Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba said the city council should first consult ratepayers if it wants to introduce the road maintenance fees on motorists.
“Roads have become heavily potholed and impassable. These roads have outlived their lifespans and are now a danger to motorists and pedestrians. The council has not officially proposed to introduce the road maintenance fees on motorists. That was an opinion which was shared by the mayor, but which is not shared by most of the councillors,” he said.
“If the council wants to introduce anything, as a policy they need to firstly raise it with the ratepayers, who have to give their input, which must guide whichever committee of council to formulate its recommendations to the full council.
“In any case, these thoughts have no basis, because they never emerged from the residents during the pre-budget consultation meetings. Even the Finance and Development Committee and the Budget Advisory Committee did not make these proposals, and so how does the mayor and the council seek to introduce the new fees?”
Shumba said citizens are already heavily taxed, so new fees are unwelcome.
“The council has to make do with the available resources. The government should decentralise the Zimbabwe National Road Administration by making it more accountable to the citizens through having road authorities made up of local technocrats from the works departments of each local authority. The expenditure, performance and oversight management of these road authorities should reflect the priorities of the local citizens,” he said.
“The government should not divert funds from road fees charged at tollgates and vehicle licencing to other non-core issues like payment of civil servants’ salaries. The current abuse and diversion of roads fees by both government and the local authorities is unsustainable and should be halted ahead of the 2018 elections.
“If not stopped now, there are higher chances that the politics will soon interfere with prudent financial management of resources.”