Since the beginning of the rain season two months ago, the country’s roads, both in the urban areas and the highways, have deteriorated.
the big interview BY BLESSED MHLANGA
The roads are littered with potholes, making them a hazard for motorists.
Local authorities say they are hamstrung from repairing the roads because the Zimbabwe National Road Authority (Zinara) distributes the funds it collects from their jurisdictions unfairly.
Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere’s proposal to introduce tollgates in urban areas has also riled motorists who feel they are already paying too much to access the country’s roads.
Our reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM) yesterday interviewed Transport minister Jorum Gumbo (JG) about these and other issues.
The minister insists the government is not getting enough from the tollgates to improve the roads and revealed government’s shocking plans to make motorists pay more. Below are excerpts of the interview.
BM: Minister, there are lots of issues that have been raised about the state of the roads in the country. I want to have an insight on what the ministry is doing to address these issues.
JG: You want to discuss about an issue concerning the ministry during the burial of a national hero (former Mashonaland West governor Peter Chanetsa)? Anyway, let’s discuss.
BM: The roads in Zimbabwe are deplorable and have become a threat to road users, resulting in several avoidable accidents yet your ministry through Zinara is collecting money through tollgates. What is the problem. Where is the money going?
JG: At times people need more education on these issues and I think the media must play an important role since memory at times doesn’t go that long.
People tend to forget that the rehabilitation of the Plumtree to Mutare road means that we are paying back the money that was used for that.
So if you are talking of the money that we collect on tollgates, the bulk of that money goes towards repayment of the loan that we got to rehabilitate your roads. What remains goes again to be divided on a quarterly basis between the local authorities or road authorities who are rural district councils and city councils, the District Development Fund and the department of roads.
So those responsible authorities are the ones who should look after the roads.
If you are talking of any roads, of which I don’t know which ones you are referring to, then you should be talking to the responsible authorities of those roads and say why are you not taking care of the roads with the money that you are given.
BM: They have put the blame squarely on your doorstep, saying you are not giving them enough money to deal with their needs.
JG: No, it’s giving that which is supposed to be given, take that to your own rural district authority yourself, let it be Muzarabani.
They never collected an amount of $100 000 per term or per quarter of a year for roads, they never did that, but every local authority is getting over a $100 000 per quarter so what are they doing with that money.
Harare which makes a lot of noise, for instance, they get over a million, where are they putting it?
BM: Is that not the question you should be answering since you are the responsible minister?
JG: That is a point you are now making and I am going to be holding meetings starting on Monday going around the country. On Monday I will be in Chinhoyi. I will meet all the road authorities in that province, the second day I will be in Mashonaland Central, on the 11th I will be in Mashonaland East, on the 12th I will be in Manicaland, on the 13th I will be in Masvingo, on the 19th in Midlands and on the 20th I will be in Bulawayo, combining all the provinces.
BM: All these local authorities you say you will be visiting have the same challenge — poor roads. Are they conniving to abuse the money which Zinara is paying them?
JG: Bulawayo City Council is doing very well. Why do we have this noise that is coming from Harare? Go to Bulawayo and you will be proud of how they use the little money that they get.
You can see that they have used the money. So where is Harare putting the money? I grew up here myself, I grew up in Mufakose, the roads are impassable.
The Mbare roads are impassable, go to Mabvuku, Tafara, the roads are impassable.
Go into town, there are potholes but we are giving Harare City Council more than $1 million. Can they show me where they put that money so that they can complain that the money is short.
There was a national decision to look after the roads and, therefore, the construction or reconstruction of the Mutare to Plumtree Highway, which is being repaid from the money that is collected from that same pot, which is an important national project for your national highway.
BM: How long are you going to be repaying the loans which you are talking about so that all the money can now be fully channelled to rehabilitation of these dangerous roads?
JG: It’s public knowledge that we are now left with seven years for the repayment of the Plumtree to Mutare road, the loan is known, the repayment is known because this is passed by Parliament, not by the Transport minister.
This is a loan to government, the Transport minister only administers so where are people getting lost?
BM: There has been renewed talk of urban tollgates, with suggestions that these will be instrumental in improving the road network in towns. What is your view on that issue?
JM: On that issue, you must talk to the responsible minister of Local Government (Saviour Kasukuwere). I don’t administer local authorities, I don’t do things in the local authorities and I must say to you I support the idea.
Go anywhere, in any of the countries that are developed now, you will find tollgates in town.
BM: There is a school of thought that says Zinara is riddled with corruption and is failing to deliver its mandate and should, therefore, be disbanded.
JG: It’s because they don’t know why it was formed so they are free to say what they want, but it’s a wrong opinion. Zinara are doing a fantastic job, they are becoming the national collector and administrator of monies collected on the roads as we do on all the roads in the country.
As Zinara becomes free to collect more revenue, they will see the benefits.
They must not forget that we are taking about money for Zinara to fix all the roads in the country.
We are fixing these roads on credit because we don’t have the money today. So don’t say that when you are now repaying the loan and you are not satisfied because the money is going towards loan repayments and you forget that they have to be paid.
If all the money which is being collected by Zinara was going to go to local authorities, then local authorities would have lots of money, but because of the loan repayments they are getting a little bit.
BM: Local authorities are saying they must be allowed to collect quarterly road licences from vehicles within their areas because the Zinara system prejudices them.
JG: Why should they do that? I mean why really should they do that?
BM: Their argument is that Zinara allocates less money to cities with more vehicles and a bigger road network, while giving more money for instance to Karoi which has fewer vehicles and a smaller road network.
JG: There is no city with more vehicles,; the vehicles belong to the people of Zimbabwe and the people have a responsibility to develop their country. So you want to monopolise development to Harare because it is home to the most number of vehicles?
What happens when a motorist travels out of Harare and the roads there have not been developed?
Will that be a functioning country and besides, 80% of the people in Zimbabwe live in the rural areas.
So we are making a collection into one pot and distributing it equally to the people of Zimbabwe and developing the whole country and not only Harare.
BM: How big is your cake annually, in terms of the revenue collected; the figures?
JG: It’s a small cake, there are no tollgates. There are only 26 tollgates in the country. Some other roads have not been put on toll gates, that’s why we are busy fixing the roads.
BM: How long do you need to fix the roads in Zimbabwe?
JG: No. How long are you going to be breathing?
BM: As long as God permits.
JG: Yes, as long as we live, we will continue to improve the roads.
Go to the rural areas today, a lot of rains pounded the areas and the roads are being washed away.
Just a week ago the rains came and now there are potholes and gulleys on the roads.
We must again go back and re-do them. As they get bad, we must continue to do them.
BM: Are you saying you are planning to add more tollgates on other roads?
JG: Yes, as we work on the roads and improve them, we are doing Beitbridge-Chirundu, we are going to be doing Nyamapanda and many other roads and put many tollgates, as many as we can and as you rightly say, even in town.
BM: Why do Zimbabwean motorists have to pay a $9 road access fee when leaving the country?
JG: Whats wrong with that?
BM: Road access fee for a car leaving the country and even when they come back they pay another fee of $10.
JG: Where was it travelling before it left the country? Whose roads was it damaging while it was in Zimbabwe? So it must pay.
BM: Is that not double dipping because this motorist already pays a licence to use the roads?
JG: That is a law that is international; you can’t travel with a disc or a licence on your car, so why should it be different?
BM: Is it not ironic that a Zimbabwean registered vehicle entering South Africa does not pay a single dollar to access their roads, but Zimbabweans pay to leave their country.
JG: Those are their laws, we are not making laws for South Africans. We make laws for ourselves, for the reasons that we believe.
BM: Is it fair though to your citizens given the quality of our roads?
JG: That is your own judgement but we are making the law and that is the law that we have.
It can’t be personal; that is what the Zimbabwean government has passed.