THE news that Government, through the National Road Fund Agency, raised a staggering K150 million in three months at two toll gates along the Great North Road is heart-warming indeed.
This is a great achievement for a system whose viability and practicability many Zambians doubted when the idea was first touted in 2000 by the Mwanawasa government. Today it is poised to become the biggest and most assured and efficient way for the State to raise money to build, operate and maintain the country’s road network.
The Manyumbi and Kafulafuta toll points were opened in January this year and have proved to be the most sustainable and cost effective method of ‘‘soft tax’’ which, unlike the Zambia Revenue Authority, does not employ thousands of trained personnel, offices and costly equipment to collect levy and chase after the tax evaders.
Buoyed by the results of the two pay points, the NRFA targets to collect K816 million from road users this year alone from the few toll gates it has set up. In addition it plans to have in operation by the end of this month seven new toll gates on all the trunk roads connecting the 10 provinces of Zambia.
We salute the Government for investing in this important revenue collection exercise which compels the country’s road fleet to fund the construction and maintenance of the roads on which it is running.
This is in sharp contrast to the mentality of the past where the State dipped into its meagre coffers to repair roads badly damaged by heavy-duty trucks plying between DR Congo and South Africa and between Malawi and the SADC countries in the south.
Previously the Zambia government could only benefit through the mandatory entry point duty to be paid by the truck driver for passing through Zambia regardless of the weight of the load and its inevitable menace to our road network.
This new, robust transportation fee-paying system will no doubt help accelerate the economic development of our country through the provision of quality roads, speedy maintenance of the existing ones and availability of cash to pay the contractors.
What the National Road Fund Agency needs now is to invest in technology to effect the flawless movement of traffic at toll gates as well as enhance transparency and accountability in the collection, handling and custody of the huge daily cash-takings on all the roads throughout the country.
We understand the NRFA plans to introduce a cashless payment solution and the setting up of surveillance cameras (CCTV) to capture the arrival, weigh-in and departure of motor vehicles passing through the system using a number-plate recognition technique.
We also suggest the installation and operation of an integrated computer system that will record the registration number of the vehicle as it enters the toll gate, its exact weight, how much it must pay and name of the driver and member of staff who handled the transaction. This data would then be instantly flashed to a master server at NRFA headquarters.
This cash security system will ensure that every ngwee raised at toll gates is accounted for and will hold all members of staff accountable for their actions in the handling of cash.
There is no sense in investing millions of dollars to build and operate one of the most viable revenue generating systems that will greatly boost our national Budget then fail to safeguard it. It will be the crime of the century.