Minister of Information Gospel Kazako says government will not reduce access fees per motor vehicle pass at the Chingeni Toll Plaza in Ntcheu District which officially opens today.
The government’s position stated during a press conference in Blantyre on Sunday comes at a time Minibus Owners Association of Malawi (Moam) is planning to protest against the rollout of the fees at Chingeni Toll Plaza today.
Reacting to Moam’s protest, Kazako said prior to announcement of the access fees, government through the Roads Fund Administration (RFA), engaged several stakeholders, including Moam. He said several issues relating to the toll gates were raised and resolved.
He said: “Moam raised a number of issues and some were legitimate, but on the tollgate fees, we told them that if they look at other countries, ours are on the lower side.
“Our position was that it is impossible to reduce the tollgate fees and that was what we had initially agreed. But that does not mean that we are closed for negotiations.”
On Thursday, Moam leadership announced a planned nationwide strike from today to protest the fees which they described as exorbitant and will negatively affect their businesses.
The access fees range from K1 700 to K20 000 per pass, depending on the size of the vehicle.
Moam secretary general Coaxley Kamange said on Thursday that they had initially requested the Ministry of Finance to reduce the set K3 400 toll fees for minibuses with seating capacity of less that 17 to K500 and that for minibuses carrying between 17 and 31 passengers, they should be reduced from K5 100 to K600.
During the briefing, Kazako said while government understands Moam’s concerns, they are addressing some outstanding issues they raised, including the practice of collecting passenger fees by self-imposed authorities at terminals commonly known as migodi and collection of minibus fees by respective local councils.
He said legally minibus touts or self-imposed authorities are not allowed to collect any fees from operators.
On local councils charging fees for every passing minibus, Kazako said the matter is currently being discussed on how they can resolve it.
The minister also said that government will ensure that taxi operators that are not registered are withdrawn from the Blantyre-Lilongwe route as per the demands raised by Moam.
While stressing that government will not stop Moam from proceeding with their planned strike as it is their constitutional right, Kazako said the law is clear that no public road is supposed to be blocked during a strike.
As part of their planned strike, Kamange said Moam will hold a vigil at Chingeni Toll Plaza where they will stop other transport operators from passing through.
In a telephone interview yesterday, he said they will still proceed with their strike despite Kazako’s assurance that government is addressing their concerns.
He said: “Our position is that we are still proceeding with our strike tomorrow [today] because the key thing is the tollgate fees.”
Kamange, however, said the association is also committed to dialogue if government will approach them on the matter.
On Thursday, Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director John Kapito also described the toll gate fees as exorbitant and given the current economic meltdown, it will be difficult for small minibus operators to make profits.
Meanwhile, some schools yesterday urged their students not to report for classes today due to Moam’s strike.
The RFA introduced the tollgates as a reform area to diversify sources of financing for road maintenance which currently solely relies on fuel levies on prices of petrol and diesel.
It expects to raise between K4 billion and K5 billion per year with the figure projected to rise with the passage of time. The RFA is also constructing another tollgate at Kalinyeke in Dedza District.
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PHOTOGRAPH: LLOYD CHITSULO
Kazako: Impossible to reduce toll fees