Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT | The Herald January 9, 2017
Harare has been allocated $1 262 854 for road maintenance in 2017 by Zinara, yet vehicle owners in the city pay several tens of millions of dollars in vehicle licence fees each year. Everyone needs to know what happens to all that money and why such a trivial amount is returned to the city.Before Zinara was created local authorities set and collected the licence fees for vehicles kept in their areas. The money was used to build and maintain roads in that area. The system worked fairly well.
The biggest single problem was that there was no common national licence fee. Harare, in fact, had one of the highest fees and so quite a few Harare motorists lied about where their vehicle was kept and paid the lower fees charged by Chitungwiza and surrounding rural district councils. The difference was not vast, but it did see some of the income leak, yet the city managed to keep its road network in reasonable repair.
When Zinara was founded it was decided that there should be a single national licence fee, that tolls could be collected to finance national highways, previously funded solely through the national budget, and that local authorities would be the main beneficiaries of the licence fee money to fund maintenance of their local roads.
This clearly has not happened and local authorities are being starved of funds, without Zinara taking over the maintenance of local roads. The only maintenance function it assumes is to ensure that money for maintenance is spent on maintenance, not on other council functions, but the sums allocated are so small that the position is far worse than when councils cheated.
So now Harare is brooding about a road tax, in effect a second licence fee, so it has income to repair roads.
We think there are far better solutions.
First, Zinara must come clean on its income and expenditure. There are reports that it allocates well over a third of its income to administration which, if true, is a scandal.
Zinara has consistently underestimated its likely revenue but as we have argued many times this appears to be a result of the informal but permanent removal from use of many vehicles rather than widespread cheating. The frequent police patrols and roadblocks ensure that all vehicles actually using the roads are licensed.
We suspect that Zinara is using a high percentage of licence fees not just for administration but also for maintenance and upgrades of national highways. If that is so it must say so. There are other solutions to robbing local councils including higher tolls and, as many countries have done, a small tax on fuel so that those who use the roads most pay for the upkeep of those roads.
Councils should be able to then get the licence fees from the vehicles in their areas, minus a small commission of say 5 percent, with Zinara acting solely as a collection agency and ensuring that the fees are properly spent on road maintenance.
The switch from self-financing councils to Zinara collection and distribution was meant to eliminate cheating by vehicle owners and councils. Instead, it has seen over 90 percent of licence fee income being spent on something else besides local road maintenance.
Zinara now needs to explain what this something else is and then we can have a rational debate on how to boost Zinara efficiency several fold and examine the best ways to finance both a national highway network and have decent local roads.
That debate must see the bulk of licence fees going to councils and other sources used to finance the highways and if it is impossible to retain the theoretical gains of Zinara against the actual facts then licensing needs to be returned to councils.
We believe that with the correct facts and figures on the table it will be possible to create a system that ensures all roads are properly maintained with users paying the bills in proportion to the benefits they receive. That needs to be the standard set and the ways and means of achieving this worked out so that workable ones are created.