‘Toll fees not enough for road rehabilitation’

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Minister Patrick Chinamasa

Minister Patrick Chinamasa

Harare Bureau
ROAD maintenance across the country remains a challenge as the bulk of the money from toll fees collected is going towards the $206 million loan repayment to the Development Bank of South Africa, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamsa has said.

Meaningful returns are only coming from the tollgates that Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) is administering in partnership with a local firm Univern Enterprises. Zinara board chairman Mr Albert Mugabe however, said they had a game-changing plans for the country’s road network.

The $206 million that Government borrowed from DBSA was used to rehabilitate the Plumtree-Mutare highway through an investment vehicle called Infralink that was formed by Zinara and Group Five, which was contracted to refurbish the road.

Intertoll Zimbabwe, a local unit of Intertoll Africa, which is a subsidiary of the South African engineering firm Group Five, is collecting toll fees on the Plumtree-Mutare highway, part of which is servicing the DBSA loan. Minister Chinamasa told reporters on Tuesday that road maintenance should be financed from the fiscus but over 90 percent of Government revenue was going towards wages.

“As you are aware, the toll fees which are collected on the Mutare-Plumtree Road are already committed to the lender who gave us that money,” he said.

“That money is not within the scope of Government (and), there should be a ground-breaking ceremony anytime soon on the Beitbridge to Harare Highway. That money will also be committed to that road.”

“I had a meeting with them (Zinara) yesterday, and they are going to basically submit to me proposals on how we should address the road sector problem.

But when you look at what they are collecting, it is not much compared to the requirements to rehabilitate our roads.”

Minister Chinamasa said he had discussions with his Transport and Infrastructural Development ministry counterpart Dr Joram Gumbo, and declared the country’s roads a national disaster.

“What is going through my mind is, where am I going to get that money from? If I am honest myself, it means I must raise more revenue or I must go and borrow. Ideally, I should be financing it from the budget but currently, as you know, over 90 percent of revenue is going towards wages, which leaves very little towards service delivery, then little towards operations and very little towards capital formation,” he said.

Concerns were also raised on the money that Zinara is collecting from other tollgates it is administering in partnership with Univern Enterprises, with Government calling for renegotiation of contracts between Zinara and Univern Enterprises and Intertoll Zimbabwe. It emerged that from the subsisting contracts, Univern is getting a commission of 12,5 percent while Intertoll is getting 21 percent.

Intertoll Zimbabwe chief executive Ms Bridget Ledwaba could not be reached for comment.

In an emailed response to our Harare Bureau, Univern said it does not handle Zinara funds but it was happy that their system had significantly contributed to Zinara’s revenue collections.

“Our system is designed in a way that we do not handle the money ourselves,” reads the statement.

“Records show a significant improvement in toll fees collection since the introduction of our system.”

Asked if they had a plan to deal with the current deplorable state of the roads, Zinara’s borad chairman said: “We have several game-changing plans for the national road network. For instance, we are finalising a facility to re-equip all road authorities. “There are several initiatives to increase financial support for road authorities as well. We are also looking at enhancing the skills base available to local authorities by providing engineers and other technical support staff.”

He said they were already in the process of reviewing contracts between Zinara and its partners as per Government directive.

However, in one of her audit reports, Comptroller and Auditor-General Mrs Mildred Chiri pointed out that Zinara was failing to account for how it was using toll fees.