via Govt dips into tollgate fees to pay civil servants – Nehanda Radio 15 August 2014
GOVERNMENT, which controversially hiked tollgate fees by 100 percent less than a month ago, has been diverting funds earmarked for road development towards payment of civil servants salaries, the Financial Gazette can report.
The disclosure was made by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Munesu Munodawafa, at a Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) annual congress in Mutare a fortnight ago.
Although Munodawafa said the practice was rampant when tollgate fees were being collected by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) and had stopped once the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (ZINARA), a unit of the Ministry of Transport, took over tollgate collection last year, indications are that some of the revenue continues to trickle into Treasury to fund salaries.
The revelations are likely to stun an embittered population, which has been made to believe that the hike in tollgate fees was necessitated by a need by government to escalate road rehabilitation projects and help heal the ailing economy.
Although the increase in tollgate fees had been challenged in court by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights on the basis that it had been made using the wrong legislation, the High Court overturned the challenge and ruled in favour of Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Obert Mpofu.
Munodawafa’s disclosures may still infuriate the public, which is grappling under a liquidity crunch against the backdrop of an erosion of incomes caused by increasing joblessness and at times non-payment of salaries by struggling companies. He said the increase in tollgate fees was made to boost funding for the rehabilitation of Zimbabwe’s deteriorating road infrastructure although the cash-strapped Treasury had been diverting cash raised from the fees to pay salaries.
“We had a situation where money was presented to Treasury, who had to juggle with paying civil servants and channelling the money to the Ministry (of Transport),” Munodawafa told captains of industry.
Mpofu, however, indicated that ZINARA was still an agent of Treasury in revenue collection when South Africa handed over two months ago the administration of the Limpopo Bridge to Zimbabwe after the expiry of the 20-year build, operate and transfer agreement with New Limpopo Bridge, the company that built the bridge in 1994.
Revenue from the toll fees for the bridge will now be shared between South Africa and Zimbabwe. Mpofu said: “Revenue collection will be administered by ZINARA and while it will go to Treasury, it will also be used for the (infrastructure) development needs of the Beitbridge border town.”
Munodawafa, however, told the Financial Gazette that tollgate fees went into the Road Fund, which is administered by ZINARA. The Fund, he said, was responsible for the disbursement of money to various road administrators, including local authorities. “ZINARA remits to the Road Fund and money is distributed to the four road authorities namely DDF, department of roads and rural district councils (and) urban councils for road development,” said Munodawafa.
Apparently, there are suggestions, which could not be confirmed this week, that Treasury was also tapping into the Road Fund “to support a dire situation”. Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa was not answering calls to his mobile number for a comment on this issue.
Government has scrapped pay dates for civil servants, who now receive their salaries only when the money becomes available. This reflects a deteriorating fiscal crisis, which has forced ZIMRA to resort to issuing garnishee orders on company accounts to raise desperately needed cash.
Government has even resorted to rounding up street vendors to raise money. Last year, government’s salary bill amounted to US$2,6 billion or 68 percent of the total budget which amounted to US$3,8 billion. This year, the salary bill could take up to 80 percent of the national budget after government agreed to a salary increment for civil servants.
“When (Willard) Manungo is given the money, what can he do when civil servants have to be paid? We all know the answer and money to ZINARA was not coming on time. ZINARA has taken over the collection of toll fees from ZIMRA and we expect the rate at which road rehabilitation is taking place to improve,” Munodawafa said.
Manungo is the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Finance; he was present at the congress at which Munodawafa mentioned his name.
The country has 22 tollgates and is planning to introduce more in urban areas to decongest cities, in particular Harare. Government last month hiked tollgate fees by 100 percent, with small vehicles now required to pay US$2, up from US$1, while haulage trucks are now forking out US$10, up from US$5.
Motorists said the new tollgate fees are prohibitive, considering that if one was travelling from Harare to Beitbridge in a small vehicle, one would fork out US$16 for a return trip.
While the introduction of toll fees has facilitated the mobilisation of resources for rehabilitation and maintenance of the road network through ZINARA, funds raised have, however, fallen short of the country’s road rehabilitation requirements and let alone new projects. Financial Gazette