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Monday, 7 July 2014

Toll gate fee increase irrational

By Blessing Vava

Minister of Transport- Obert Mpofu 
The Herald of 5 July 2014 reported that the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Obert Mpofu made amendments to the Toll Roads (Regional Trunk Road Network) Amendment Regulations of 2010 to effect an increase on tollgates. The report follows a   Statutory Instrument published in the Government Gazette by Government. The increase,   the first since tollgates were introduced in 2009 will see minibuses paying US$3, up from US$2. Buses will now be required to pay US$4, up from US$3, while heavy vehicles will pay US$5, up from US$4.

The increase itself is irrational, unreasonable and cannot be justified considering that not much maintenance has been done on all the countries major roads. Zimbabwe’s major roads have remained death traps with accidents because of minimum road maintenance despite the millions already being collected through tollgates. Already the money being collected from the tollgates cannot be justified or accounted for properly. Though the government needs resources to institute improvements on our major highways, this should however not be a justification to increase the tollgate fees by 100%. Instead, there should be other efficient means to collect these “taxes’’ to improve our roads. Raising funds for national road rehabilitation projects of this nature should be done with the least negative impact on the pockets of the public, whilst achieving the goal of funding the infrastructure.

The tollgate increase has indeed exposed the government’s arrogance in public engagement by introducing a policy of this nature. It should be the responsibility of every government to engage stakeholders on matters of policy that affect its citizens. While Minister Mpofu and ZINARA will try to justify and have us believe that this decision was arrived at through a consultative process, the simple truth is, they as a Ministry have failed and fell far short of what would be expected in a matter of this magnitude. This is validated by the outrage and surprise motorists expressed when the announcements of the toll increase were made. This did not only shock the individual road users, but business community as well.

In fact it was totally wrong and unacceptable, in the first place, for government to charge people to use existing roads. This is a form of privatisation of an existing public asset, our roads, which should be a public service paid for through taxation and not a commodity for sale to those with money. There should be a transparent discussion on why there has been a sudden increase. The increase will obviously affect the poor as this will also lead to the increase in the fares of public transport, thereby piling on the burden to the already suffering citizens. Poor consumers will also be hit by the inevitable higher prices in the shops as haulage firms pass on the cost of the tolls to the retailers, who will then pass this on to their customers.

 The move by Mpofu should not go unchallenged, it is a call to the trade unions, motorists, public transport associations, social movements, and community groupings to organise themselves and resist this illegal move.  It should basically be a campaign against the commodification of the highways. Equally, that campaign should speak to the broader demands for accessible, affordable and safe public transport system.  Whilst there is absolutely no doubt that even if one does not necessarily use the roads a good road infrastructure will be of great benefit to the country as a whole, but the burden should not entirely lie on the public but equally the national treasury needs to be an important contributor to the funding of roads.

The announcement by Minister Mpofu that less than $40 million is collected from tollgates annually is rather an under estimate, the government should disclose or share with the public the expenses needed so that it gives us a fairly accurate account of the tollgate costs and road rehabilitation.
Understanding the logic and issues above, the toll increase is fundamentally flawed and should be challenged even legally. It is most certainly not in the best interests of the citizen and works against the ultimate role that Government ought to play – i.e. to enhance the wellbeing of its citizens.

Blessing Vuvuzela Vava is a social commentator. He writes from Chipinge and can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com