BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka
A FEW years ago the term road tolls sounded so remote that no-one imagined that it could become a reality in Zambia.
Many road users felt that paying road tolls would be asking for too much from motorists, especially long- distance transporters.
But the fear which was attached to the challenge of paying road tolls regularly is now water under the bridge.
Apparently, every motorist has bought into the idea with the hope that the money raised from toll gates built on various highways in the country would go towards road maintenance.
The National Road Fund Agency (NRFA) is closing the year 2017 with over K600 million in tolls revenue. These monies have been collected from inland toll stations, weighbridge points and ports of entry.
The revenue has been used to finance road maintenance programmes in the country with a bias towards the tolled sections of the core road network.
During 2017, the National Road Fund Agency (NRFA) board operated within its mandate of providing strategic policy guidance to Management, in line with the National Road Fund Act No. 13 of 2002.
All activities implemented during the period under review were within the scope of the NRFA’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan as approved by the Board anchored on a vision of “A Sustainable Road Fund’, and a mission statement to “Effectively Manage and Administer the Road Fund in a Transparent and Sustainable way so as to ensure Value for Money and Stimulate Socio-Economic Development.’
The key Agency activities were pinned to the 10 strategic objectives enshrined in the strategic plan, whose themes include operational efficiency and service excellence.
The 10 objectives are within the four perspectives of the strategic plan’s balanced score card.
The perspectives include stakeholder satisfaction, financial stewardship, internal processes and organisational capacity.
On September 1, 2015, the NRFA was appointed as a lead tolls agent by the Road Development Agency (RDA) in accordance with the Tolls Act No. 14 of 2011 to perform such functions as collection and banking of tolls from designated toll points and undertake strategies to increase tolls revenue to finance road maintenance programmes on Zambian public roads.
Two initial toll stations were commissioned at Manyumbi between Kabwe and Kapiri Mposhi, and Kafulafuta between Kapirimposhi and Ndola.
Modern toll plazas at Katuba, Mumbwa, and Shimabala were commissioned on April 27, 2017 and the NRFA has since been improving the art of road tolling through innovative systems, procedures and controls and, working together with the RDA, the financing agency is on an expansion course to increase the road tolling footprint to a record 40 toll stations across the country by the end of 2018.
In the recent past, additional toll plazas have been opened at Chongwe in Lusaka Province, Kalense between Kasama and Luwingu, Kateshi between Kasama and Mbala in Northern Province and at Chembe in Luapula Province.
NRFA public relations officer Alphonsius Hamachila says as part of the value proposition to road users and following the issuance of Statutory Instrument Number 86 of 2016, the NRFA has rolled out local and frequent user discounts to eligible motorists to ease the burden of paying tolls for people who reside near toll plazas and those who regularly access the toll facilities.
“In a bid to support service efficiency to the road users and ensure that there is transparency in the tolling programme, the NRFA has partnered with Zamtel to provide a Wide Area Network (WAN) system, which has since been installed and interconnects a total of six toll plazas,” Mr Hamachila says.
He says the wide area network is being used to transmit live pictures from the toll plazas to the NRFA headoffice in Lusaka for effective monitoring of all road tolling systems and transactions.
Mr Hamachila says the National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA) has been identified as a key and strategic partner in the procurement of road financing to the road sector on commercially viable roads based on a mutually agreed financing agreement with the repayment based on toll collections from toll stations to be constructed on the identified roads.
“NAPSA has availed NRFA K2.12 billion. The projects under NAPSA are scheduled to be completed by August 2018, through Ndola to Kitwe, Kitwe to Chingola south bound and Solwezi to Chingola Lot-1 road works are scheduled to be completed by end of December 2017,” he says.
He says this will leave the NRFA with Kitwe to Chingola North bound, Solwezi to Chingola Lot 2&3 to be completed by end of August 2018.
“These road projects are particularly important as they connect Zambia to the major copper mines in the North-western part of Zambia which is the new mining hub and one of the highest producers of agricultural products such as pineapples, beans and maize,” Mr Hamachila says.
He says the NAPSA – NRFA finance initiative will ease pressure on the treasury in financing road projects and is in line with Government’s policy directive to enhance domestic resource mobilisation and refocusing of public spending on core public sector mandates.
The NRFA’s Strategic Themes of ‘Service Excellency and ‘Operational Efficiency’ as contained in its Strategic Plan 2017-2021 remain key focus areas as the Agency leverage on new technologies such as the Wide Area Network, and Electronic Payment Systems in 2018.
Mr Hamachila says this will enable NRFA to effectively and efficiently respond to road user needs and concerns so as to achieve three mutually exclusive strategic results of ‘Satisfied Stakeholders’, ‘Positive Corporate Image’ and ‘Excellent Service’.
The NRFA and other road sector agencies and institutions are mindful that road user expectations are high and critical to this turn- around is the need to come up with a framework through which tolls could be ploughed back to road maintenance.
In this regard, a Road Toll Maintenance Programme (RoToMap), has been worked out and will support local authorities in carrying out pothole patching, road markings and signage and construction of speed humps on the tolled roads and adjacent township roads connecting to tolled roads.
“Such initiatives will ensure that toll roads bring about high quality road network. In addition to contributing to improved road safety, the road tolling programme will generally reduce travelling distances and result in substantial savings on the running costs of our vehicles. And in all this matrix, the ‘user-pay principle’ will link the benefits for the road user by charging users only in direct relationship to how much of the road they use,” Mr Hamachila says.
NRFA chief executive officer Wallace Mumba says 2017 has been very positive in terms of performance.
Mr Mumba says NRFA expects to close the year by hitting the target of 98 percent.
“Our target was to construct 20 inland stations but we managed only nine, but we have still kept a target of 40 [inland stations] by the end of 2018,” Mr Mumba says.
He says his organisation has set the pace by coming up with the strategic plan (2017-2021) but they will fine- tune it with the business plan which is being finalised.
“We will do much better, we have a clear direction,” Mr Mumba says.
Mr hailed the teamwork at NRFA which, he says, a win-win spirit because they want to beat their targets all the time.