The Zimbabwe United Passengers Company (Zupco) has not been remitting fees for the use of designated urban bus terminuses thereby depriving cash-strapped urban councils of revenue.
Inquiries involving the country's five biggest local authorities revealed that Zupco had not remitted a cent into the council coffers since it started on a joint venture with private bus operators last year as required by law.
This comes at a time the state enterprise is at loggerheads with bus owners it is in partnership with following revelations they have not been paid their dues despite Zupco bosses spoiling themselves with luxury vehicles and using money realised from the partnership to refurbish depots.
According to the Urban Councils Act, Part XIV, local authorities are in charge of all urban routes and terminal points of services where they charge monthly or annual fees per bus.
This has been the arrangement with private commuter omnibuses -- but similar efforts have failed Zupco.
Local authorities told the Zimbabwe Independent that the reintroduction of Zupco in 2019, came as a pilot project and councils hoped to start to recover revenues once the project had scaled up.
By late 2019, Zupco only had 237 buses in five major cities, broken down as follows: Harare, 145 buses; Bulawayo, 40; Mutare, 3 2; while Masvingo and Gweru had 10 buses each.
However, according to Zupco's website, the figure recently increased to 770 buses and 1 000 minibuses.
"We have since tasked our administration team to approach Zupco over this issue because they have not remitted anything since they started operating. When they started, they said it was a pilot project and we hoped that we would recoup our monies once they were fully operational but this has not been the case," said Mutare Mayor Blessing Tandi.
However, recently axed deputy mayor Kudakwashe Chisango said several unsuccessful approaches had been made to both Zupco and Local Government Minister July Moyo.
Gweru Mayor and president of the Urban Council of Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ) Josiah Makombe said while no formal complaint has been brought before UCAZ, Zupco had not remitted terminal fees since it was re-introduced.
"As a council we considered that Zupco has been out of service for years and they have just started operating. But we are looking into this issue because, yes, they have not been paying (terminal fees)," said Makombe.
He added that they had reached an understanding with the bus operator to renovate their main terminal -- Kudzanai Rank.
Masvingo Mayor Collen Maboke also confirmed that Zupco had not been remitting terminal fees but hastened to point out that it was because the city had no terminals.
"The reason why Zupco has not been paying is because there is no rank for them to pay for. We are currently constructing one and only then would we be able to tax them," said Maboke.
Surprisingly, Maboke said they were taxing private kombis before they were restricted from operating.
Harare spokesperson Mike Chideme referred questions to UCAZ while Bulawayo city spokesperson Nesisa Mpofu asked for written questions but had not responded at the time of going to print.
However, sources at the two big local authorities said nothing had been coming from the parastatal bus managers and they feared a backlash from central government over the matter.
Zupco acting chief executive officer Evaristo Madangwa did not respond to questions emailed to him.
Investigations indicated that annual terminal fees were pegged between ZWL$200 to ZWL$500 per 18 seater minibuses while 75-seater buses were charged a single passengers fee per every trip.
It could not be immediately established how much is being charged under the newly approved budgets.
The revenue generated from terminal fees would be ploughed back to renovate and maintain the bus terminuses.
A survey highlighted that most commuters had to endure the rains while queuing for Zupco buses as most terminals were either dilapidated or were open spaces.
"We have the interest of our city dwellers at heart and we are aware that most of them are being inconvenienced by the rains while queuing for buses. But we cannot fund the renovation of our rank (Mudzviti Bus Terminus) because Zupco is not remitting terminal fees," said an official at the local authority.