By Dumisani Nyoni
THE Colleen Bawn Tollgate, situated along the Bulawayo-Beitbridge highway, is notorious for theft and corruption involving the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) cashiers, an investigation by CITE has established.
Investigations revealed that the tollgate lacks sophisticated control facilities showing videos and registration numbers for all vehicles that pass through the gates daily, hence giving room for theft and corruption.
It also does not have boom gates.
Posing as a passenger en-route to Beitbridge, this reporter observed that some motorists were made to pay any amount they have to allow passage while those who pay the full amount were not given receipts.
According to Statutory Instrument (SI) 32 of 2021, light vehicles pay US$2 or R30, minibuses US$3 or R50, buses US$4 or R60, heavy vehicles US$5 or R80 and haulage trucks US$10 or R160.
In local currency, light vehicles are charged ZW$220, minibuses ZW$330, buses ZW$440, heavy vehicles ZW$550 while haulage trucks are charged ZW$1100.
The fees are administered by Zinara in terms of the Vehicle Registration and Licensing Act (Chapter 13:14).
Zinara is a corporate body that was established in terms of the Road Act (Chapter 13:18). The body was established in 2002 in line with the government’s commitment to prioritise the enhancement of a good road network system throughout the country.
Zinara’s mandate is to fix, collect, disburse road user charges and mobilise revenue for roads development and maintenance. It also encompasses the monitoring of such funds that would have been disbursed for road maintenance to road authorities.
The statutory body administers over 30 tollgates on most of the country’s highways.
Investigations by this publication revealed that cashiers were using bank cards and pocket foreign currency paid by motorists.
For instance, a cashier would collect US$10 from a haulage truck driver and instead of cashing it as forex, he or she would swipe for ZW$1100 and pocket US$10.
In the parallel market, US$10 fetches about ZW$2000.
Speaking during the International Anti-Corruption Day commemorations in Harare recently, Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) chairperson Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo revealed that Zinara, Vehicle Inspection Department, and police have normalised corruption in government.
At the Shurugwi tollgate, she said they had to arrest all workers stationed there as they were using Zinara swiping cards and pocketing State money.
An employee would take home not less than ZW$70 000 or at least more than US$200 a day, she said.
Motorists who spoke with this publication said the Colleen Bawn tollgate was a “cash cow” for Zinara officials.
Motorists also “benefit” through paying half the amount required.
The Beitbridge-Bulawayo highway is one of the busiest routes that provide a corridor that runs to the border with South Africa, meaning thousands of vehicles pass through the Colleen Bawn Tollgate daily.
Beitbridge is the busiest inland port in the region as it is the gateway to South Africa for most countries in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region.
And this means more ‘cash’ for Zinara officials.
The highway also links Zimbabwe to the trans-African highway that runs from Cairo to Gaborone through to Pretoria, Kimberley.
It is used to transport goods and services from Beitbridge Border Post to towns and cities such as Gwanda, Bulawayo, Gweru, Victoria Falls, Gweru, Harare, Mutare, Lusaka in Zambia, Maputo in Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pretoria and Johannesburg in South Africa, among other places.
The highway needs major rehabilitation and the government in 2019 awarded the South African firm, Khato Holdings the deal for the rehabilitation of the Beitbridge-Bulawayo and Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highways in a build, operate and transfer arrangement.
Khato Holdings subsidiary, Khato Civils and South Zambezi joint venture are responsible for the rehabilitation of the highway.
A memorandum of agreement between Zimbabwe and the joint venture was signed in April 2019, and the letter of appointment came in the same month.
Several feasibility studies have been carried out for the project but more than two years down the line, the upgrading of the 327km Beitbridge-Bulawayo highway is yet to take off, with the government now threatening to award the tender to another contractor.
Funds collected should be used for road infrastructural development but due to corruption, most of the country’s roads are in a bad state, with both highways and roads in various cities have become pothole littered.
Motorists have challenged road authorities to fix the roads which have become death traps and an inconvenience for even pedestrians who in some areas are forced to walk long distances just to find transport.
Zimbabwe has a vehicle population of over 1.1 million, according to Zinara.
Contacted for comment on the matter, Zinara spokesperson Tendai Mugabe said they have not yet received any corruption reports regarding the Colleen Bawn Tollgate.
“We are in the process of upgrading that tollgate. Possibly, if you realise we are trying to put some booms at that tollgate and trying to make it a bit modern,” he said.
Mugabe could not be drawn to reveal how much the tollgate is generating per month or annum.
Chair of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development Oscar Gorerino said as a committee they visited all the tollgates in the country last year and produced a report, detailing rampant corruption in the country’s tollgates.
“There was a document which was given to ZACC about the tollgates and the culprits, of which we expect ZACC to swoop on those people rather than for them to just keep on waiting and telling us stories because they already have that document,” he said.
“It was a document from Zinara telling them about what was happening in toll gates and for them to act since they have got the powers to arrest.”
In response to Gorerino, ZACC spokesperson John Makamure said: “We have arrested several Zinara employees for corruption at tollgates. At Shurugwi, we arrested literally the whole staff establishment at that tollgate. I don’t know about these other reports but we have been arresting Zinara officers at different tollgates. If Zinara reported to us, why are they not taking action?”
In 2019, according to the State media, Zinara fired 30 cashiers for fraud and theft after the authority uncovered systematic scams at four tollgates involving cashiers, supervisors and police officers manning the gates.
The loot was shared with everyone involved, from the supervising tollgate controllers down to the cleaners on an agreed hierarchy scale.
Fourteen of the fired cashiers were based at Skyline tollgate along the Harare-Masvingo Highway, while the other 16 were from Dema, Shurugwi and Shamva tollgates, report notes.
According to State media, each cashier would contribute a fixed amount which would be shared among other workers like police officers and cleaners who had no access to cash.
Cashiers also contributed money from Point of Sale (POS) machine settlements which would not have been receipted.
In some of his writings, Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association coordinator Emmanuel Ndlovu noted that mal-administration, misappropriation, corruption, poor control mechanisms and revenue leaks now characterize the country’s tolling system.
“There is an urgent need to address the diminishing confidence of both road users and citizens in general in the entire tollgate revenue collection process. Tolling is a relatively new phenomenon in our history,” he said.
“I suggest it is time to invest in public-private partnerships (PPP). Tolling is highly regarded as a solution to shortfalls in financing, but the government is unable to manage the process alone. In the majority of instances, PPPs provide the opportunity to build projects more quickly and at a lower cost.”
“However, such partnerships require risk sharing, which must begin with an evaluation of each party’s objectives and respective ability to bear risks,” Ndlovu said.
In this regard, Ndlovu said enduring tolling infrastructure must be constructed through a public-private partnership on a build, manage-and transfer basis.