Thupeyo Muleya, Analysis
THE Second Republic has since its inception prioritised infrastructure development with the aim of modernising, boosting the country’s productive sectors and ensuring efficient provision of social services to every corner.
Some of the development projects have been made possible with the aid of a robust private-public partnerships (PPPs).
In fact, the Government has in the last three years adopted an accelerated drive for infrastructural development in line with the envisaged vision of creating an upper middle-income economy by 2030.
Among other capital projects, the modernisation of Beitbridge Border Post at a cost of US$300 million tops the list of projects being implemented under the PPPs concept.
The Government and the Zimborders Consortium is transforming the border under a 17-and-a-half-year build, operate and transfer (BOT) concession.
As part of the agreement, the consortium is providing funding while the Government is providing technical support and the land.
In addition, the consortium will recoup its investment through the collection of toll fees and manage the infrastructure for the duration of the concession.
Thereafter, the Government will take full ownership of the infrastructure.
The Beitbridge project is being carried out in three phases, with Phases 1 and 2, being the freight and bus terminal have been completed.
The last phase is the construction of a light vehicles’ terminal and out of port works, which include 220 houses for border staff, a sewer oxidation dam, a fire station, an animal plant and quarantine, roads, and a reservoir.
Some of the projects are at various stages of completion and are set for completion in April next year.
Lack of appropriate infrastructure and non-automation at the country and Sadc’s busiest border post, Beitbridge, had in previous years created a bottleneck to the efficient movement of cargo and people.
Resultantly, this created security challenges, congestion, and delays hence the birth of the Government and Zimborders Consortium BOT concession.
The PPPs model has proved to be effective if one looks at the way the New Limpopo Bridge was built in 1994 in a similar fashion by the New Limpopo Bridge (Ltd) in a 20-year concession that ended in 2014.
At that time, the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) was tasked to take over the collection of the bridge’s tolling revenue.
The Government also retained most of the NLB staff at the border post to enhance continuity.
However, new challenges have emerged at the port of entry, where Zimborders is now collecting toll fees at the freight and bus terminals.
In fact, a challenging situation is looming with the Beitbridge community raising concern over the new border access toll fees being levied on vehicles by the consortium.
They are now calling for the Government to intervene and revise the charges.
In separate interviews this week, community members said the new user fees would adversely affect the town’s economic activities and their source of livelihood, which is anchored on cross-border trade.
The Zimborders Consortium is charging US$40 for light delivery vehicles, US$80 for buses, US$200 for commercial trucks, and US$175 for rigid trucks with a carrying capacity of between 15 tonnes and 20 tonnes.
The charges are in addition to other levies and the New Limpopo Bridge toll fees paid to Zinara and the Vehicle Inspection Department (VID).
As it stands, commercial trucks require at least US$850 to get into Zimbabwe and leave through Beitbridge Border.
This includes all the road levies and carbon tax.
Buses and light delivery vehicles need an average of US$300 to access the border both ways.
It is also understood that private motorists will part ways with around US$150 to access the border two ways by November this year.
The general consensus among them is that the current toll fees are not realistic and that they will drive most people out of cross-border linked business.
Mr Tafadzwa Chiuta, a representative of Beitbridge Light Cross Border Transporters said at the moment there was no proper communication on the proper traffic flow and toll fees for light vehicles.
In some instances, one might leave for South Africa without paying toll fees and when they return they are told to pay varied figures of between US$40 and US$80 depending on the load they will be carrying.
Representatives of more than 500 informal traders from the town are also saying that service providers such as transporters and suppliers would be forced to pass that cost onto them, which may see prices going up.
Beitbridge Municipality Town Clerk, Mr Loud Ramakgapola said if travel to South Africa was expensive, it would slow down growth or make commodities from that country expensive when sold locally.
He said motorists were already paying the Zinara bridge toll fees, adding that the new toll fees would further burden them.
The state of affairs at Beitbridge, where on 1 June there was a small protest by cross-border traders and transporters, over the new toll fees must be immediately addressed.
Fortunately, border security managed to swiftly resolve the situation on the day before it escalated.
It is critical for the Government and its partner to have consultation meetings with all concerned stakeholders to find common ground on the user fees.
Alternatively, they may take a leaf from the NLB model which saw local residents being exempted from toll fees.
Under that setup, those motorists using the New Bridge were paying an average of US$9 and US$23 for light and heavy vehicles respectively in toll fees for a one-way route.
Although the fees might look little, Zimborders might within 17 years, be able to retain its investment and handle more traffic at the border.
The issue of affordability, if not resolved might turn the new look border into a white elephant or an access point for the elites alone.
Ideally, this can’t be good for the investor, considering that some commercial transporters are already moving to other borders including, Plumtree, Kazungula, and Mozambique to avoid the huge toll fees at Beitbridge.
The volume of commercial trucks has remained at a daily average of between 800 and 900, down from the usual 1200 before the transformation of the port of entry.
Indications are that traffic via Gobblers-Bridge, between South Africa and Botswana has been gradually rising in the last five months.
Given the current scenario, Zimborders and the Government must engage the concerned parties and adopt a model similar to that of the NLB concession.
During the bridge handover in 2014, NLB shareholders’ representative, Mr Thomas Proustow said since the introduction of the multi-currency system in 2009, the Government had received US$30 million from them in toll fees.
He said a total of 10 million vehicles had passed through the Beitbridge border post between 1994 and 2014.
It is understood that over 100 000 transit trucks, 80 000 locally bound trucks, 300 000 light vehicles, 150 000 buses, and seven million travellers are accessing Zimbabwe or South Africa via Beitbridge Border Post annually.
A solution to the high Beitbridge toll fees issue must be found now. – @tupeyol.