Zambian authorities reverse night driving ban
By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka – The Zambia government last week lifted an interdict on night driving, following a flurry of complaints from the business sector that the embargo was costing them millions of dollars.
The decision to ban night driving came into effect in October 2016, which the government said was in the interest of public safety due to high rate of road accidents.
However, the business community, including manufacturers and mining companies, have argued that they have incurred huge losses, as they were not allowed to move goods at night.
Recently, First Quantum Minerals Ltd, owners of Kansanshi and Trident Kalumbila Mines in north-western Zambia, disclosed that the imposition of Statutory Instrument 76 of 2016 was costing the mining firm a staggering US$4 million daily due to failure to ferry their copper-related products to other towns.
John Gladstone, the operations director at Kalumbila-Sentinel Mine, said the company was losing money “as we cannot move our concentrates to smelters and other related points in the night”.
The Zambia Association of Manufacturers (ZAM) chief executive, Maybin Nsupila, also expressed dismay at government’s unilateral decision to impose the ban on night driving for all freight and public transport vehicles between 21h00 and 05h00 arguing that the costs would force the industry to collapse as many did that to beat traffic on the highways.
After lengthy consultations, the government has rescinded its decision to slap the ban on night movement of all freight carriers but maintains the ban on public vehicles until further notice.
Finance Minister Felix Mutati stated that effective from 6 December 2017, the ban has been lifted on all freight carriers, as enshrined under Statutory Instrument 76 of 2016 but that there were conditions applicable to the drivers, which will be enforced by the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA).
Speaking in Kazungula earlier, Mutati said all freight vehicles would now be allowed to travel at night, regretting that the decision was retrogressive to the norms of business as many players had suffered during the course of the law’s application.
However, Brian Mushimba, the Minister of Transport and Communication, said the action was done after signing the revised SI 76 conditionally but that it would not meet the cost incurred by affected companies.
“We realise the cost implications the action had but I’m afraid we can’t reimburse those that lost their business in the course of the law, as it was done to protect human lives,” he said, arguing that during the period accident-related deaths had been reduced by over 20 percent.
Mutati had earlier hinted that while the action was regrettable, the reversal was aimed at effecting positive growth in Zambia’s gross domestic product by allowing the wheels of commerce to continue rotating every hour.
It is envisaged the decision would further encourage a surge in activity levels for the mining and agriculture sectors in terms of job creation.
“The original intention of the ban was to try and enhance safety on our roads. In particular the mining sector, they are moving material across mines. I think it is prudent that we allow commerce to move ahead. So next week we are lifting the ban,” said Mutati.
Recently, RTSA spokesperson, Fred Mubanga, argued that the restrictions under S1 76 of 2016 were applicable to all public transport except those moving locally in a radius of 50 kilometres within a single locality.
Offenders face fines up to 300 Zambian kwacha (US$31) or imprisonment up to three months or both.
But, RTSA chief executive officer, Zindaba Soko, said while the ban had been waived for freight carrier trucks, the agency would continue monitoring to ensure there was no drunken driving and speeding while all drivers were not allowed to carry passengers but freight only.
Other players, including over 4,000 cross-border traders, lamented the cost of doing business with the imposition of the ban.
They argue that the restriction had seen their travel expenses soar, according to Charles Kakoma, chairman of the Cross Border Traders Association.
“Imagine a trip to Tanzania. A trader may reach Tanzania the same day but is not assured of leaving Tanzania the same day like before. So, one is forced to spend a night in Tanzania and start off the following morning, which is a huge cost for them,” he said.
Nonetheless, Kakoma noted that despite the imposition, the law was done in good faith arguing: “Yes, we may incur a high cost of doing business, but life is precious.”
But Susan Mulenga, a widow, argues to the contrary. She claimed during the ban she lost an estimated 5,000 Zambian kwacha (US$513) from an initial capital of 18,000 Zambian kwacha (US$1,846), or a little less than a third, since the law came into effect in November.
Nawa Mwitumwa, the former secretary general of the Cross Border Traders Association now a consultant, argues that it was unfair for the government to move the law unilaterally without considering the cost implications and has called for consistence in its application.