10 July 2014

Zimbabwe: Toll Fees Hike Triggers Lawsuit - Lawyers Want Increase Set Aside - Economic Challenges Cited

Photo: Herald

Daniel Nemukuyu — A group of lawyers has filed an urgent High Court application challenging the increase in toll fees, in some instances by 100 percent, announced by Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Obert Mpofu last week. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights wants Statutory Instrument 106/14, which contained the increases, to be set aside pending finalisation of the case.

ZLHR described the increase as arbitrary, oppressive and punitive considering that motorists were already grappling under the old fees in an environment where disposable incomes are depressed.

Government last week gazetted the Toll Roads (Regional Trunk Road Network) (Amendment) Regulations, 2014 under SI 106/2014, which increased toll fees for light private vehicles from US$1 to US$2.

Minibuses' toll fees were hiked from US$2 to US$3 and buses from US$3 to US$4.

Heavy vehicles are now being charged US$5, up from US$4, while haulage truck drivers are now leaving US$10 at the toll gates up from US$5.

The new toll fees, according to the public notice, will be effective from tomorrow.

ZLHR, on behalf of motorists, instructed its lawyers Mr Joshua Shekede and Mr Givemore Madzoka of Wintertons law firm to file the urgent chamber application for the suspension of the Statutory Instrument.

The lawyers argued that the economy was not doing well and motorists were already grappling under the old toll fees and that imposing a 100 percent increase was unreasonable.

They argued that the increase in toll fees was done in an "arbitrary and oppressive fashion" and that no consultation was done with the motoring public as required by the law.

Harare lawyer Mr Selby Hwacha, a member of ZLHR, deposited a founding affidavit laying out the basis of the challenge.

In the affidavit, Mr Hwacha stated that the fees were unfair to the motoring public, hence in breach of Section 3 of the Administrative Justice Act which compels all policies to be reasonable and fair.

"First respondent (Dr Mpofu) abused his discretion and power to increase toll fees," he said. "The principle behind the charging of toll fees is to allow road users to reasonably pay for the use and maintenance of the roads.

"Payment should, therefore, not be pursued to the prejudice of the road users. Charging of exorbitant and punitive toll fees is clearly against public policy and the first respondent seems to be punishing innocent citizens for owning cars."

Mr Hwacha argued that Dr Mpofu had not justified the need for toll fees increases.

"It is pertinent to highlight that the national economy has not been performing well and there are fears that deflation may set in," he said. "There has been a record number of company closures and public entities are struggling to pay salaries.

"The economy is illiquid. Where are the members of the public expected to get the money to fund these ambitious toll fees?"

"Five years after the introduction of the toll points there has not been any meaningful improvement on our roads," said Mr Hwacha.

ZLHR contends that it once asked Dr Mpofu to account for the money collected from toll points for the past five years, but no meaningful response was given.

"Despite failing to account for the toll gate takings of the past five years, the first respondent still comes back for more," said Mr Hwacha. "Why should the first respondent get more?"

He argued that Dr Mpofu did not consider that there were other sources of funds for road maintenance.

"The second respondent (the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration) for instance, gets payments from fuel levy, vehicle licensing, transit fees, abnormal load fees and overload fees," he said.

"All these have not been increased at all. The first respondent seems to target those motorists who pass through toll points."

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