Policy clarification key to road safety

By Lazarus Sauti

Harare – A policy is simply a declaration of an intention and for every nation to have a direction there is need for clarity on policy, as well as governance issues, says development analyst, Tinashe Muzamhindo.

“No investor is willing to part or partner with anyone without clarity on policy matters,” he declares, adding that one of the weakest points that the Zimbabwean government has is policy clarification.

True to his assertion, there is no policy consistency for the country’s dilapidated roads which are significantly contributing to road carnage and claiming at least five lives per day, according to figures from the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ).

At least 80 percent of the country’s 97 000 km road network requires a major overhaul, according to Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister, Dr. Jorum Gumbo, who adds that a total of US$5 billion is required to rehabilitate the decaying road network.

“Due to this lack of policy consistency for Zimbabwe’s rundown major highways and primary city roads,” adds public policy analyst, Francis Mandaza, “citizens have witnessed an endless exchange of words between local authorities, the Zimbabwe National Road Authority (Zinara), established in terms of the Road Act, and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development as to who is guilt for the chaos.”

Zinara, in consultations with the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development, collects as well as manages road and vehicle licensing fees, but it does not have the mandate to maintain road networks under the jurisdiction of local authorities.

After collecting revenue, the parastatal forwards funds to local authorities who then ensure roads around their areas are constructed, maintained and rehabilitated, in line with Second Schedule Section 198, paragraph 19 (1) of the Urban Councils’ Act (Chapter 29:15).

Because of this arrangement, local authorities have ganged up against Zinara accusing it of causing the collapse of the country’s road infrastructure.

Urban Councils Authority of Zimbabwe president and Harare mayor, Bernard Manyenyeni, always complains about the raw deal local authorities receive from Zinara, which collects around US$130 million annually from road access fees, vehicle licensing and transit fees.

He strongly argues that as long as Zinara does not remit the required funds to local authorities for road maintenance, citizens should not blame local authorities for potholes and road carnages.

Recent minutes of the Harare City Council’s Environmental Management Committee noted that Zinara had disbursed only US$1.7 million in 2016 and council was owed road and maintenance grants by the parastatal dating back to 2015.

“The committee further noted that the funds were inadequate for the repair or maintenance of the 7 000km of roads, drains, public lighting, traffic signals and other street furniture,” noted the minutes, adding, “The state of the city’s roads was a result of severe underfunding since the takeover of the vehicle licencing function by Zinara.”

Concurring, Kadoma mayor, Muchineyi Chinyanganya, says vehicle licence fees should be collected by local authorities to maintain and rehabilitate roads, as was the case before, a fact subscribed to by Kwekwe mayor, Matenda Madzoke, who adds that Zinara should only manage toll fees.

Zinara chairperson, Albert Mugabe, admits that funds distributed to local authorities are inadequate, but argues that local authorities cannot release themselves from the blame.

His superior, Dr. Gumbo accuses local authorities of diverting funds disbursed by Zinara for road rehabilitation and maintenance to pay off debts and fund salaries as well as allowances for staff.

“Zinara is equally committed to this national goal,” he says, “but where I have issues is with some local authorities that are making noise on Zinara disbursements, particularly city of Harare.

“They say Zinara gives them inadequate money, about US$1 million per quarter, but what do they have to show for that little money that they have received?

“Can they show us one road that they have maintained or patched up using the money they have received?”

With this blame game, what are policy options for the country’s road network?

Furthermore, who is going to fix the country’s roads, which are littered with potholes and hindering socio-economic expansion in Zimbabwe?

In the journal paper “Potholes in Zimbabwe: A hindrance to economic development”, Zimbabwean social scientist, Dr. Whitehead Zikhali, notes that potholes are a menace in the country, and are posing a danger to citizens as well as the development of the Zimbabwean economy as the infrastructure (roads included) enhances economic growth.

Currently working for the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), South Sudan as information analyst, research and reporting officer, Dr. Zikhali adds that Beitbridge-Chirundu road and the Harare-Beitbridge-Victoria Falls road, two highways that connect Zimbabwe with its trading partners such as Zambia, South Africa, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are infested with potholes, a situation that has affected economic growth in the country.

“Tourists and haulage trucks from neighbouring countries cannot drive through potholes, vehicles are depreciating at a faster rate and transporters are losing a lot of money through vehicle licencing,” he says, adding, “goods meant for production are being delayed, with some being lost through accidents.”

Dr. Zikhali also says insurance pothole accident related claims have increased and this also entails hindrance of economic development in Zimbabwe.

“Potholes”, he affixes, “have cost some precious lives as many accidents, attributed to these potholes have been reported in the country.”

Figures releases by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) in 2016 showed that roads have become death traps with an average of 2 000 people dying each year.

Although most of these accidents are due to human error, as per statistics from the police and the TSCZ, several accidents in the country are also caused by the state of roads and potholes.

Significantly, Dr. Zikhali believes the government and local authorities must have an effective public communication process which provides clarity and transparency in their policy approaches of constructing, maintaining and reparing roads with potholes.

He also urges the government to consider developing a consistent approach for determining economic costs and benefits of road maintenance, as well as an appropriate measure of reporting potholes which is informative of an efficient approach of road maintenance.

As for Mandaza, who is also a local governance expert, the haggling between Zinara, local authorities and the government, through the Ministry of Transport, shows that there is everything wrong with the arrangement of giving Zinara access to road and vehicle licencing fees without giving it an equal responsibility to ensure effective and efficient management of the roads.

He thus urges the government to show leadership, set broad directions on policy issues and save Zimbabweans from accidents.

“The government should restore the collection and administration of vehicle licence fees to local authorities for use on roads under their respective

“Local authorities are better placed to manage vehicle licence fees and road management than Zinara, which is better placed to manage the country’s national highways as well as tollgate fees than local authorities.”

Mandaza also says local authorities should ‘ring fence’ road fees and use them only for the maintenance, rehabilitation and upgrading of roads.

Researcher, Collence Chisita, believes it is critical to make use of evidence and research in crafting effective policies, as well as constructing, maintaining and rehabilitating highways and urban roads.

“City of Harare recently pronounced that it is moving from the traditional asphalt roads to concrete roads, which have a higher lifespan than asphalt roads, in an effort to beat potholes, he says.

“Proper research should, therefore, be conducted to establish the safety issues concerned with concrete roads, as well as consider other tools such as a new asphalt technology which has been developed to create stronger and safer roads.”

As for researcher, Gift Taderera, there is need for a local think tank to craft policies that bring investments in the country.

He also says most roads in the country need overhauling and in the absence of proper funding, local authorities need to consider Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), as well as Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) arrangements as innovative avenues for roads administration.

Taderera also pleads with private companies to adopt roads for rehabilitation.

May 2017
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