HUMAN rights lawyers are mulling a legal challenge to proposals to hike tollgate fees by 50%.
BY NDAMU SANDU
They say the government must first fully account for the money it has been collecting from the roads and justify the increases.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) also want the ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development to provide the total amount collected since the inception of the tollgate system, among a host of demands as it piles pressure on government to stop the proposed increase in fees.
Transport and Infrastructure Development minister Obert Mpofu was recently quoted as saying the ministry was mulling an increase in toll fees, raising the ire of motorists who feel that money collected has not been deployed to improve the poor state of the country’s roads.
In a June 24 2014 letter to Mpofu, the Public Interest Litigation Unit of ZLHR requested the ministry to provide the total collections from the inception of the tollgate system to date.
It wants the ministry to provide a breakdown of the collections per tollgate, a breakdown of the allocation and use of funds collected from the commencement of the tollgate system to date and the names of entities involved in the construction of the tollgates and the amounts due and payable to them.
The ministry is also supposed to avail the names of entities contracted for purposes of rehabilitating the road network, and the amounts due and payable to them. It should also give an account of future projects and activities to be financed from tollgates.
ZLHR said the ministry should provide audited financial statements of the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) from the commencement of the tollgate system to date.
The unit enquired whether any public consultation was conducted to elicit the views of road users and the general public on the proposed increase in toll fees.
“…the new Constitution requires open, transparent and responsive governance and enshrines the rights of citizens to access information and participation in governance,” ZLHR said.
“We trust you will furnish us with the aforementioned information timeously and in any event within 30 days as mandated by section 6 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, so as to ensure that this matter will not result in unnecessary litigation.”
Tollgates were introduced in 2009 to raise money for road maintenance. Currently light vehicles are charged US$1, with kombis paying US$2, buses US$3, mid-sized lorries US$4 while haulage trucks fork out US$5.
However, motorists say the roads were not being maintained and blamed their poor state for the spate of accidents wrecking havoc on the country’s roads.
Top Zinara executives have been fingered in multi-million dollar scams involving the awarding of road maintenance tenders among several other corrupt deals.
A recent audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General revealed that the roads authority failed to account for US$6 million dollars meant for the Roads and Road Traffic Fund, to provide tools and equipment for road construction and maintenance in 2011.