It has been reported that government, through the Ro a ds Fund Administration, plans to introduce toll gates to raise funds for maintaining roads. Toll gates are a common feature in some African countries. In South Africa, for example, toll gates started in the 1700s and are littered across all the major roads designated as N1, N2, N3 or N17. Zimbabwe also introduced toll gates a few years ago.
Toll gates are indeed a good means of raising funds to maintain the roads. We know that roads have a time span and the road conditions deteriorate over time due to factors such as weather and overloading, and they need to be maintained. However, given the quality of our national roads, which we call M1, it will be ripping off the public if toll fees were to be introduced.
Our roads designated as M1 road are actually the same as residential streets. For example, there is no difference between Ufulu road and Lilongwe-Mzimba road or Lilongwe-Blantyre road. Some sections of M1 such as Mzimba- Kafukule, Rumphi-Nthalire-Chitipa do not even have tarmac. Some sections of the roads are bumpy and riddled with potholes. They are really disgusting. What will people be paying for? There should be value for money not just paying because government wants to raise money.
Another element to be considered is the impact the toll fees will have on business and the public in general. The toll fees will be an added burden. The toll gates will increase the cost of doing business and travelling more expensive. Companies will increase the prices of goods to offset the cost of toll fees. Furthermore, transport fares will also go up as transport operators will shift the burden on the travellers. Malawians are already saddled with taxes. For example, government is milking the public through the fuel levy whose value is cannot really be felt.
Then there is question of who will be paying. In South Africa, any vehicle that passes through the toll gate pays toll fees. The boom gates are automated. Each time they open they charge and the cashier has to account for the money. In Malawi minsters, MPs and CEOs and other VIPs would want to be exempted. Yet they also use the roads. So ordinary motorists will bear burden of paying the fees.
Accountability of the funds is equally a huge talking point. Government cannot be trusted to use the funds for the intended purpose. Funds from the toll gates will certainly be diverted for other use. Corruption between road contractorsand politicians will also likely to increase as they will look for contracts.