Roads Fund Administration (RFA) yesterday started collecting tollgate fees at the Chingeni Toll Plaza in Ntcheu with motorists paying the fees.
The smooth roll-out was in sharp contrast to initial fears of confrontation after Minibus Owners Association of Malawi (Moam) threatened to hold a vigil at the site of the country’s first tollgate.
But Moam later called off the planned nationwide strike and opted to go into dialogue with government.
In an interview at the plaza yesterday, RFA spokesperson Masauko Mngwaluko said the opening day was peaceful and the roll-out smooth.
“There were some people who converged near the barrier, but they did not enter the toll plaza. Motorists wilfully complied with the fees and we haven’t witnessed anything unusual.”
To pass through the gate, light vehicles are paying K1 700, minibuses and pickups K3 400 while vehicles with a capacity of between 17 to 31 passengers are paying K5 100. Vehicles with a 10-tonne capacity pay K8 000 while abnormal load vehicles pay K20 000.
Currently, there are three paying points for one way categorised according to the vehicle body weight such as light, medium and heavy vehicles.
Upon the driver paying cash, the gate automatically opens and the light switches on to alert the driver to proceed.
The maximum time a driver can spend at the tollgate is between one to two minutes.
On the toll fees, Mngwaluko said they were arrived at in 2018 and have not been adjusted since.
Moam last week requested the Ministry of Finance to reduce the set K3 400 toll fees for minibuses with seating capacity of less than 17 passengers to K500 for minibuses carrying between 17 and 31 passengers it has been reduced from K5 100 to K600.
In an interview yesterday, Moam chairperson Peter Mvalo said the association called-off the strike after reaching an agreement with government to hold a round-table discussion.
He said Minister of Information Gospel Kazako asked the association to call-off the strike and give dialogue a chance.
Mvalo, who was at Chingeni Toll Plaza at the time of the interview, said: “The minister tried to look into the issues we presented to the Roads Fund Administration so that maybe he can try as minister to sort out of the issues.
“So, he promised us today [yesterday] that we should have that hope that on Thursday we are going to meet.”
In a separate interview yesterday, Kazako, who is also the official government spokesperson, said the decision to call off the strike was aimed at creating a room for contact and dialogue.
He said: “There is so much other than the tollgate fees that requires continuous engagement to ensure productive spaces are created to enable both government and the Moam to productively and progressively operate.”
Social and governance commentators Humphrey Mvula and Andrew Kaponya observed that the protests are an indication of lack of adequate consultations on the tollgate fees roll-out.
However, Mvula also called for better public transport options so that Malawians are not affected when minibus operators embark on a strike.
He said: “Government should consider introducing State-owned public transport in cities and towns, so that any minibus operators’ strike should not affect many Malawians.”
On his part, Kaponya urged government to seriously consider views of Moam which will benefit most Malawians.
Before Moam called off the strike, passengers in some parts of the country were left stranded as minibuses were not available on the roads.
Some people were forced to walk to their respective places of work while others resorted to hire motorbikes.
In Zomba, angry minibus operators blocked the Zomba-Liwonde Road and detained some buses until the police intervened.
This resulted in running battles between the police and the protesters who were dispersed when the police fired tear gas.
Malawi Gazette Supplement dated August 6 2021 signed by Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu says the toll fee or other charge imposed for use for a tolled public road shall form part of the Roads Fund and shall be used for maintenance or rehabilitation of the tolled public road or any other public road as may be determined by the administration.
Failure to comply with the regulations shall attract a penalty of K1 million and to imprisonment of 12 months. Road Fund Authority estimates to collect about K9 billion annually to finance the road infrastructure in the country at Chingeni and Kalinyeka Tollgates.