Home » Judicial » Court Delays Ruling in Toll Fee Challenge

HIGH COURT Judge, Justice Joseph Mafusire Friday reserved judgement in a case in which the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) was challenging the 100 per cent hike on toll fees by Transport Minister Obert Mpofu.

The rights group, on behalf of motorists, also wanted the High Court to issue an order interdicting the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA), which administers the tolls, from proceeding with the new fees.

The group essentially wanted Statutory Instrument 10614, which effected the increases, to be declared null and void.

ZLHR described the increase as arbitrary, oppressive and punitive considering that motorists were already finding it tough in an environment where disposable incomes were depressed.

The group further insisted the hike was in breach of Section 3 of the Administrative Justice Act which compels all policies to be reasonable and fair, adding that the minister was “punishing the public for owning cars”.

Further, the group said the increases were effected unilaterally without the public’s input, adding that the government had failed to justify the collection of toll fees since they were introduced five years ago as was witnessed by the continued dilapidated nature of the country’s highways.

But after nearly three hours of the chamber arguments only attended by legal counsels for the rights group, the cited Minister, ZINARA and the Attorney General, Justice Mafusire reserved his judgement.

A decision will be handed down as a matter of urgency … Joshua Shekede

“Basically judgement has been reserved. We are told it would be handed down anytime from now. And we would be informed by the Registrar (High Court),” Joshua Shekede told journalists soon after the hearing.

He added: “He (the judge) has appreciated that a decision has to be handed down urgently so that we are certain since this is a matter which involves tolls tolls are actually taxes, that’s why he has promised that his decision would be out very soon.”

Government last week gazetted the Toll Roads (Regional Trunk Road Network) (Amendment) Regulations, 2014 under SI 1062014, which increased toll fees for light private vehicles from US$1 to US$2.

Minibuses’ toll fees were hiked from US$2 to US$3 and buses from US$3 to US$4.

Heavy vehicles are now being charged US$5, up from US$4, while haulage truck drivers are now leaving US$10 at the toll gates up from US$5.

Motorists started paying the doubled fees this Friday right at the stroke of midnight.

Following the hike, the ZLHR on Wednesday filed a chamber application asking the courts to declare the Statutory Instrument null and void.

But in his opposing submissions, Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) CEO Frank Chitukutuku, whose organisation was cited as the second respondent, was adamant government was spot on in effecting the hike.

He said the minister was empowered by the statutes to exercise his functions as he did when he effected the increase. He also challenged ZLHR to prove they were acting on behalf of motorists.

“The applicant does not have the authority to institute the application on behalf of the motoring public in this jurisdiction,” he said.

“The applicant has not brought any documents to the court to prove that it is mandated by the people it purports to represent.

“The applicant is on a sole foray of his own and cannot make itself a big brother of those who have not sought to associate with its application.”

Defending toll fee hike … Aocate Farai Mutamangira for the respondents

Chitukutuku was also adamant the lawyers group must have aanced its argument benchmarking the local charges to those paid regionally.

He was quick to say a 580km road stretch linking Harare and Beitbridge had four toll gates and now cost $8 in toll fees for ordinary motorists.

This, he argued, was far less than nearly the same distance – 543 km – from Beitbridge to Johannesburg which was R196.50, something he said was more than double the fee charged locally.

Chitukutuku also said the application was not urgent in that the applicant saw no need to file it immediately after the publication of the contentious statutory instrument July 4 but did so some five days later.

Even so, said the Zinara boss, it was served on the respondents a day before the new fees became effective, Friday.

“As we sit here to argue this matter, the horses have already bolted,” said Chitukutuku.

“Motorists right now are already paying tolls in accordance with the new tariff. This application has been overtaken by events and should be dismissed.

“There must be certainty in the implementation of government taxes and levies of which toll fees are.”

Motorists have reacted gly against the cash-strapped government’s ploy to raise funds for other expenditure using toll fees.

Government is hard-pressed to raise funds to pay its restless civil service in a fast shrinking economy.

Source : New Zimbabwe