Maputo — Under pressure from the road transport lobby, the Mozambican government's Roads Fund has decided to postpone the collection of tolls on the Beira-Zimbabwe highway by a month.
The tolls on the 287 kilometre long road should have taken effect on 1 December, but bitter protests that the purposed tolls are "exorbitant" led the Roads Fund to postpone the start of collection to 1 January.
The road has been completely rebuilt, including three toll gates, at Dondo, Nhamatanda and Chimoio. Under the initial scheme, light vehicles would pay 90 meticais (1.4 US dollars) at Dondo, 250 meticais at Nhamatanda, and 380 meticais at Chimoio - thus for the entire journey from Beira to Machipanda on the Zimbabwean border a light vehicle would pay total tolls of 720 meticais (11.25 dollars).
The tolls rise depending on the weight of the vehicle. The proposed tolls for the heaviest trucks, for the three toll gates taken together, would be 5,400 meticais.
Local residents and passenger transport vehicles would pay lower tolls. Thus a bus travelling from Beira to Machipanda would pay 1,500 meticais.
There had never been any tolls on the Beira-Zimbabwe highway before, which helps explain the poor condition of the road, prior to the reconstruction, which began on 1 April 2015. The rehabilitation and widening of the road cost about 411 million dollars, financed by the Exim Bank of China and the Mozambican government.
President Filipe Nyusi inaugurated the rebuilt highway on 14 November, when it was announced that the time taken to drive from Beira to Machipanda has fallen from seven to four hours.
But somebody has to pay for such improvements. When he announced that tolls would be collected, the Minister of Public Works, Joao Machatine, said they would be used to maintain the road so that the burden of maintenance no longer falls exclusively on the Mozambican state.
Protesting vigorously against the new tolls, the Transport Associations from Sofala and Manica provinces met with Machatine on Monday, and succeeded in postponing the introduction of the tolls.
Giving reporters a summary of the understandings reached, the chairperson of the Roads Fund, Angelo Macuacua, said the postponement sought to avoid an excuse for price increases for basic goods during the approaching festive season.
Cited by the independent daily "O Pais", Macuacua also admitted that "freight transport is undertaken on the basis of contracts, and the commercial commitments for December have already been signed. Under these circumstances, the transporters have no way to renegotiate the costs of their services with their clients".
The Chairperson of the Sofala Provincial Freight Transport Association (ASTROS), Ernani da Silva, said the transport operators were satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations. He claimed that figures for new tolls were defined that are "acceptable to the transporters", and that the meeting produced results that "will benefit both sides".
However, new figures for the tolls have not yet been released.