TRANSPORT minister Obert Mpofu's defence of the tollgate fees hike has shocked many Zimbabweans after he claimed US$40 million cannot develop more than 20km of tarred road.
Mpofu's explanation for the increase came as a surprise, especially after South African company Group Five International (G5), contracted by a private company Infralink to refurbish the 828km highway from Plumtree to Mutare, said it would complete its work by year end at a total cost of US$200 million.
Speaking to our sister paper Southern Eye on the sidelines of a tour of the Victoria Falls International Airport last week, Mpofu said the new charges were not even enough to fund the rehabilitation of all roads.
"Zinara (Zimbabwe National Roads Administration) has been collecting an average of US$40 million dollars a year and that US$40 million cannot develop more than 20km of a tarred road," Mpofu said.
"We are being attacked by members of the public that our roads are not being improved, but how do we improve the entire national road network on a paltry US$40 million?"
From what Mpofu said, it follows that it costs close to US$2 million to construct a kilometre of tarred road, which is eight times more than it cost G5, whose charge was slightly above US$240 000 per kilometre.
The tollgate hike was contested in court by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), which lost the case when government argued that the increase was done procedurally by the relevant minister.
Godwin Phiri, a local political commentator, said Mpofu's move would affect poor Zimbabweans struggling under an economic crisis.
"Mpofu's proposals would result in poor Zimbabweans digging deeper into their pockets," said Phiri. "What he needs to do is approach other financial institutions which can fund the construction and rehabilitation of the roads."
Another analyst, Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe Director Sydney Chisi said it is clear Mpofu's motive is not to repair the roads.
"What this tells us is that the increase in toll fees has nothing to do with rehabilitation of the roads, but covert fundraising for civil servants salaries thus maintaining calmness within the security apparatus, especially soldiers," Chisi said.
"What Mpofu is saying is that for as long as the money is not enough, no road would be repaired yet revenue collection continues unabated. This also gives us an indication of possible looting in future," he said.