GOVERNMENT has abandoned its controversial urban tolling plan following a huge public outcry from citizens, who felt the move could further burden an already over-saddled motoring public.
The plan was first announced by former transport and infrastructural development minister, Obert Mpofu, last year.
Mpofu was vigorously pushing the idea, even in Cabinet, before he was transferred to the Ministry of Macro-Economic Planning.
The plan, which critics said would hit the poor hardest, was to start as a pilot project in Harare before spreading to other major cities, such as Bulawayo, Mutare, Gweru and Masvingo.
The idea, however, drew outrage from motorists, who are currently burdened by heavy taxes.
The Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (ZINARA), a government body responsible for all vehicle licensing and taxation, had since proposed that motorists would pay at least US$0,15 in urban toll fees compared to US$2 that private vehicles are paying at highway tollgates.
Zimbabwe introduced tollgates on its highways in 2009, with ZINARA responsible for the collection of highway tolls.
At the moment, along major highways, motorists with small cars are paying US$2. ZINARA is believed to be collecting about US$3 million from toll fees each month, although most roads remain in a state of disrepair.
New Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Joram Gumbo, this week appeared to backtrack on that policy, declaring exclusively to the Financial Gazette that the plan does not feature anywhere on the government priority list.
Instead, Gumbo said, government was seized with plans to dualise the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu and Beitbridge –Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highways.
“The issue of urban tollgates is an idea proposed by the previous minister (Mpofu), which I am aware of, but what I can tell you (for now) is that, as a new minister, this (issue of urban tollgates) is not a priority,” said Gumbo.
“At the moment, we are seized with the issue of the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu highway, the Beitbridge –Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highway and many others.
“So we can’t talk of urban tollgates now. In fact, we still have outstanding tollgates on some of our highways.”
Government, through the State Procurement Board is currently evaluating tenders to improve the highways from a single carriageway into a dual carriageway.
The Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu highway project is expected to cost about US$2 billion.
The highway connects Zimbabwe and South Africa and countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Malawi, making it one of the busiest highways on the African continent.
It also provides landlocked Zambia access to the Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richards Bay in South Africa.
The road carries between 1 000 and 5 000 vehicles per day, with the largest proportion of this traffic being trucks carrying goods, equipment and machinery.
The project once stalled due to a court challenge by a syndicate called Zimhighway Consortium, which was initially awarded the contract for the project in 2003.
Government had awarded the tender to the consortium that was made up of companies that include Masimba Holdings (formerly Murray & Roberts), Costain Africa, Kuchi Building Construction, Tarcon, Bitcon, Joina Development Company and Southland Engineers, to dualise the highway.
However, the project failed to take off, amid accusations and counter accusations between government and the consortium.
Government said the consortium did not have the financial wherewithal to execute the project, while the consortium accused government officials of demanding bribes and throwing spanners in the works.
The syndicate also accused government of going behind its back to negotiate a separate deal with the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the same organisation Zimhighways had roped in for funding.
Now, the feuding parties have since reached an agreement to drop the court case and clear the way for the rehabilitation of the highway, which is way beyond its design life and is in an advanced state of disrepair after being used none stop for the past 55 years.