A faction of social media populous has welcomed the operationalization of toll-gated M1 on Chingeni in Ntcheu and Kaliyeke in Dedza with charlatanic rumblings. Government’s gazette for regulations of Roads Fund Administration (RFA) which outlines applicable toll charges according vehicle class ranges from MK1,700 to MK20,000.
There are two narratives on either side of the point. Those regretting that funds collected through the tollgates will not be channeled towards maintenance and rehabilitation of roads as intended. They lament that thieving officials will loot these funds to line their pockets, barely leaving anything to serve the purpose.
Then there are those holding an argument that erecting of the tollgates is itself is not a problem only that it has come amidst economical downturns as people are struggling to make ends meet and therefore even the minimum fees are exorbitant. They further alluded that the fees will hike transport cost for bus commuter along the M1 stretch as operators will raise the fees. Surprisingly, the HRDC, which is otherwise expected to apply rational reasoning, is falling under the category of people reasoning like this.
While instances of possible theft on the administration of funds cannot be ruled out given the bad experience we have had as a nation, the argument which stakeholders must be engrossed in should, rather, be on how accountability and transparency on the management of the funds will be achieved.
It seems that sometimes we expend our energy fighting battles with wrong orientation. Perhaps in abundance of complaints we derive our satisfaction. But, no matter how much we do, the best we can levitate to is to shut or at least shrink the loopholes for graft and looting incidents and not vouching for a halt in revenue collection strategies. Without revenue collection, the country is as good as dead for nothing will move except outsiders coming to mourn us and feast on our funeral.
It is unreasonable, therefore, to propagate such a narrative that denounces the revenue collection rather than advocating for effective and transparent management of the funds.
If we agree that the tollgate in themselves are not the problem but the management of funds therefrom, should we not then pre-occupy our minds with energies to bring the government to task to ensure that the funds collected are put to good use? That to me is a better fight to make. We should be here rallying together to fix our gaze on the money. How shall the money collected be tracked, how shall audits be carried out and on what shall the funds be spent? Those are the kind of conversations we must have.
Transport Economists have advocated for these tollgates for decades through substantive research. The strategy was not reached at overnight or haphazardly without considering its negative and positive impacts.
It is strange for motorists to complain that because we are in an economic crisis then a minimum fee of MK1, 700 is unfounded. First of all, the odds are that one may not drive along the tollgate everyday except if they live within the area or they are using their car for business which demands them to pass that road stretch.
But then, for those who stay within a 10KM radius of the tollgate are furnished with a discount of 20%. And frequent travelers get 75% discount from the 11th round trip per month. This means that total discount for an individual living within a 10KM radius and who likely may frequently travel is 95%. In this case such a road user will only pay MK85 per day for 20 days and MK1,360 per day for 10 days totaling to MK15,300 per month, assuming that they are travelling through the gate every day.
But will the MK3,400 for minibuses hike the transport costs as per HRDC fears? Most definitely but the amount is small. The fees charged apply for a round trip. Using common 15 capacity minibuses, 13 are mostly the paying occupants. In this case it means MK3,400 has to be incurred by 26 people (round trip fees), therefore each customer will only pay MK 130 above the current fees. All this is subject to not allowance the transport operators to seize the moment and leap from travelers in the name of toll fee charge recoveries. Do we have effective consumer protection body? Perhaps we need one.
I therefore do not understand how these fees will hurt travelers when it is obvious that a single individual will not be travelling every day at least past the pay point. In my case, I own a car and I run business errands in the country. This notwithstanding, I have only travelled past the tollgates (while they were under construction) about 3 months ago. Meaning that I would have incurred these fees only once for that long. Such I believe is the case with many people.