Newly established highway toll gates in Zimbabwe are pulling in $1.4 million a month, the government recently announced, but unhappy motorists say most highways in the country remain riddled with dangerous potholes five months after the government started collecting fees to fund highway repairs.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti indicated in his 2010 budget statement that most of the money raised by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority was handed over to the Zimbabwe National Road Authority for disbursement to the Department of Roads, the District Development Fund and local authorities.
Ten percent is used by the Ministry of Finance to cover administrative costs of running the 22 toll gates set up on the country's main routes last year.
VOA Studio 7 correspondent Thomas Chiripasi, who has been assessing the current state of the roads in Zimbabwe, told reporter Gibbs Dube that although the toll gates have been generating around US$350,000 a week, most of the country's main roadways are still littered with dangerous potholes.
“Some motorists are furious that most roads are still in a bad state even if toll gates are generating a lot of money," correspondent Chiripasi said. "Some of these roads include the one that leads to Zvimba communal lands which is President Robert Mugabe’s rural home.”
Economist Godfrey Kanyenze of the Labor and Economic Development Institute of Zimbabwe said privatization was probably the best solution as the strapped government is likely to channel toll funds to other purposes.
“The public sector is currently the regulator, collector of the money and it is supposed to repair roads. This is a wrong concept. When things are like that, it is very easy to collect the money and use it for other purposes," he said.
“In fact, the public sector should be the regulator and then it should derogate the responsibility of collecting the money to a private sector company for roads repairs and maintenance," Kanyenze argued.
The state-controlled press has quoted ZIMRA Commissioner General Geshom Pasi as saying his officials are committed to the task of collecting revenue from the temporary toll gates, which are supposed to be in placed until the major highways in the country have been expanded to four lanes.
The urgent need for highway repairs was tragically underscored by an accident in March in which Susan Tsvangirai, wife of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, died in a collision on a particularly bad stretch of the road from Harare to Masvingo, in the southeast. That was followed by a series of accidents involving commercial buses in which scores of passengers were killed.