FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka
THE use of toll gates is a normal practice around the world, but the coming of toll plazas to Zambia for revenue collection from motorists has been met with rumour mongering and misinformation.
Money being collected from the toll gates has been a controversial subject whose unco-ordinated debate has taken to social media.
Appreciation on how beneficial the tolling system is to the country’s economy seems to be taking long to sink in people’s minds, going by the speculations that the funds are being misappropriated.
However, in an interview, Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Development Ronald Chitotela, dispels the rumours.
Some latest social media assertions indicate that money collected from the toll plazas is now being channeled to pay salaries for civil servants and those in quasi-government institutions.
However, divergent views are coming in, saying the revenue from motorists through toll gates is helping in maintaining the roads and construct new ones across the country, thereby triggering economic development.
Economists and construction experts have repeatedly noted that a good road network brings along an assortment of benefits to the economy.
The Economic Association of Zambia (EAZ) says the toll system is a very good way of providing better roads for citizens in the country.
EAZ president Lubinda Haabazoka said in an interview that the toll system was so far working perfectly well in Zambia just like it was in other countries like South Africa and Russia.
Mr Haabazoka, however, said Zambia should also emulate the developed world road operations that have alternative routes for certain businesses that frequently take their merchandise to markets.
“For example, farmers that are passing through a certain toll gate [more often], to reduce on their cost of doing business, you create alternative routes for them,” he said.
Ken Njovu, a Kapiri-Mposhi farmer of butternuts and watermelons among other cash crops, passes through Munyumbi and Katuba toll plazas on the Great-North Road to access the Lusaka market for his produce.
Mr Njovu agrees with the suggestion by the EAZ that Government should consider creating alternative routes for business people like him.
“It is costly to transport goods to Lusaka because on our route, I have to pay at two toll gates before reaching Lusaka, and sometimes I have to make three trips. In the meantime, government should reduce the toll fees on those who pass through the toll gates more often in a day,” Mr Njovu said.
Zambia’s 12 fully-functioning inland toll gates combined with weigh bridges and other border revenue collection points rake in about K70 million (US$7million) per month.
This translates into annual revenue gathering of K840 million, equivalent to US$84 million.
The minister of Housing and Infrastructure Development under whose ministry the toll gate operations fall, says the money goes specifically for road maintenance rehabilitation and construction.
Mr Chitotela said the National Road Fund Agency (NRFA) is an agency appointed by Government as a lead toll inland collector, while the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) collects on behalf of the Road Development Agency (RDA) on the borders.
In an interview, he said the RDA further retains the mandate to collect revenue from all weigh bridges across the country.
In attesting that the revenue from toll gates only goes towards its intended purpose, the minister said the NRFA recently disbursed funds to local authorities around the country for road maintenance.
“I saw a statement in the [Zambia Daily Mail] where the National Road Fund Agency has even started funding local authorities for road maintenance,” he said referring to a K200, 000 that NRFA recently gave to Mansa Municipal Council for road maintenance in the district.
During the launch of the NRFA-Mansa Municipal Council road tolls programme in Mansa in July this year, Mansa Mayor Emmanuel Chungu said the money from NRFA will help address many challenges in maintaining the roads.
Among other local authorities that have received funding from NRFA, include Kitwe, Ndola, Mansa, Chipata, Mongu, Livingstone, Monze and Solwezi.
He said the allocation of resources by NRFA to local authorities was a clear demonstration that the money being collected from the toll gates was being allocated for road maintenance, rehabilitation and construction and not as alleged.
“We have a special account called the Road Toll Account which is controlled by the National Road Fund Agency which does not pay salaries for civil servants. Salaries for civil servants are paid from Control 99 by the Ministry of Finance,” the minister said.
He said the money from the toll gates goes through Control 99 for only 48 hours for proper accounting purposes, within which period the funds are transferred straight to the Road Toll Account under NRFA domiciled at the Bank of Zambia.
The levying system on motorists using toll plazas has been around for a long time in most parts of the world but obviously, it is a new thing for Zambia going by the misunderstanding it has caused.
However, Mr Chitotela has appealed to Zambians to be patriotic and spread messages even on social media that reflect the truth on the positive gains the country is scoring.
FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka