By Gershom Ndhlovu
Zambian roads are clogged with all sorts of cars particularly reconditioned ones, making driving on Lusaka roads a nightmare. This, unfortunately, is seen as a sign of an improving economy by some myopic politicians who do not see that developed countries such as Japan are using poorer countries to offload old vehicles as a means of disposal.
Of course cars should not be seen as a status symbol but the people driving them should pay the price for services they receive from government. That is why I supported the earlier memorandum by Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) to increase the user fees for various services which was then hastily withdrawn by newly appointed Communication and Transport Minister Dora Siliya.
On the other hand, Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande gave an indication of new but reduced user fees which would be implemented after a Statutory Instrument is signed.
Zambian politicians whether in government or in opposition, should call a spade a spade when it comes to implementing some of these policies instead of calling each other names. Dithering on such issues is what has made us stagnate in many areas.
Firstly, increased user fees in the transport sector would mean fewer cars on the roads, less pressure on the infrastructure and less accidents. It is really madness having to spend 45 minutes from Kafue roundabout to the Kabwe roundabout on Cairo Road because of the never ending congestion.
In terms of the environment, it would inevitably lead to less damage to the environment in terms of fumes and disposal of written-off vehicles for which we have no capacity to handle.
Secondly, the money raised from such fees would go towards maintaining the roads and other transport-related infrastructure.
In the early 1980s, government seriously backtracked on charging road tolls for which even shelters for collectors where constructed on the Ndola-Kitwe dual carriageway and just before the Kafue Bridge on the Lusaka-Chirundu road which were later pulled down.
Road tolls are collected in most parts of the world where even more controversial user fees such as congestion charges in London are exacted on motorists who want to go to central London. This is not to mention parking fees which are a big incoming generating activity in some African countries such as Zimbabwe and Ethiopia which even has a National Parking Authority.
It is not unusual in Addis Ababa to see men and women clad in orange NPA bibs collecting parking levies while we begrudge Lusaka City Council parking levy collectors a couple of thousands for parking in designated areas.
Surely, someone who needs a personalised number plate can and should fork out K10 million for the privilege otherwise they should go with the general number plates like everyone else. As people are ready to pay several millions of Kwacha to bring in a vehicle, paying the RTSA fees should just be part of the price.
A softly-softly approach to governance issues such as the implementation of laws, rules and regulations is what has led to a near-anarchical state the country is in where someone just wakes up in the morning and starts dishing out plots even under high-tension power lines and on land belonging to institutions such as NRDC and UNZA etc, without anybody being penalised.
I am one of those that have praised local government and housing minister Sylvia Masebo for her hard-line stance on the running of markets and bus stations and illegal structures, all a thorn in the flesh of law-abiding citizens.
Siliya and Magande should take a similar approach in the road transport sector to bring back sanity on the roads and even introduce tougher penalties to get rid of “sikorokoros” or “bangers” from the roads.
There is need to apply the law fairly but firmly in all sectors of the social and economic sectors of the nation, otherwise we will reach a stage where it will be difficult to do so in the future when effects of our present laxity start to be felt.
MMD presidential aspirant Professor Clive Chirwa has a good idea by starting to address Zambians on his vision for the country in his upcoming talk entitled “The Strategic Plan: Zambia in the 21st Century” this Friday.
It is the venue I have a quarrel with, the London School of Economics and Political Science.
I believe most of the people who will be in attendance to listen to the man who threw the ruling party off balance when he announced his intentions late last year, might not be in the country to cast their vote in 2011.
The best place for Prof Chirwa to have kick-started his campaign, if that is what his talk in London is all about, is Nakatindi Hall in Lusaka, Victoria Hall in Livingstone or even Buchi Hall in Kitwe. People in these places have read about him and the reactions of those he intends to challenge, but it is time for him to take the plunge and cover the whole of Zambia.
It will not do for Prof Chirwa to vie for the republican presidency and still remain in the British Isles.
The Prof must either give up his comforts at Bolton University and join the people in Bauleni, Makululu, Shampande, Senama and similar places, or give up his aspirations for the presidency and remain in the UK.
In 2001, National Leadership for Development’s Dr Yobert Shamapande left it too late coming from wherever he was in the Diaspora to be “accepted” by the people when he contested the elections.
Similarly, in 1996 the late Dean Mung’omba with his Zambia Democratic Congress relied too much on the media at the expense of physically meeting the people through rallies and such interactions for him to have made an impact.
Prof Chirwa will make a big political mistake if he relies on the elite, those in the Diaspora and the media for his campaigns. What he needs is to go out within Zambia. If it means going through the Bottom Road in Southern Province, or the Dark Forest Road in Western Province, he must. Otherwise, he will just be classified as another source of hot air.