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Abort N$3,4 billion toll road plan


THE government’s plan to introduce toll gates on the country’s national highways has been slammed.

Stakeholders and experts say a tolling system would further overburden Namibians who are already battling high food and fuel prices.

There are also fears that the N$3,4-billion project would result in companies transporting goods passing the costs of the system on to the consumer.

The toll system announcement comes as Namibia is battered by high fuel prices.

Diesel now costs N$24,10 per litre after another N$1,98 hike per litre was announced this week.

Road Fund Administration (RFA) chief executive officer Ali Ipinge yesterday said the Cabinet has in principle approved the introduction of a tolling system.

The RFA has identified over 70 road sections across the country for tolling, but only 23 are viable for setting up toll gates.

The administration has requested N$4,2 billion for the project, but has only received N$3,4 billion.

The sections were identified in a feasibility study that was conducted two years ago, which Ipinge said indicated that tolling is feasible on Namibia’s roads.

“The other sections will increase traffic, one can look at them five to seven years from now. But at least 23 sections we can already do now,” Ipinge said.

‘FIND VIABLE SOLUTIONS’

Several stakeholders have, however, expressed their opposition to the introduction of toll gates in Namibia.

Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) spokesperson Hidipo Hamata has urged the Cabinet to abort the introduction of toll gates.

“We rather request the government to find viable solutions in funding and maintaining the road infrastructure in Namibia,” Hamata said in a statement this week.

Ipinge has defended the tolling system, saying it would enable the RFA to fund the maintenance of roads.

“If we implement it, we will be able to at least generate an additional third of where we are now,” he said.

Ipinge said the RFA currently generates over N$2,7 billion from road-user charges, and tolling would generate N$750 million per year.

Hamata, however, said: “The toll gate dream will be vehemently rejected, just as we rejected the 2% solidarity tax.”

The president of the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association, Jeremy Platt, has also rejected the tolling system plan.

“I do not think the idea would be productive,” he said this week, adding it would be unaffordable for public transport operators.

STRESSED HOUSEHOLDS

Social commentator and labour expert Hebert Jauch warned that the introduction of toll gates would drive up transport costs.

“It would translate in households having to pay on their own transport costs, and would increase food prices even further,” he said.

Jauch said the majority of households are already deeply affected by poverty.

“In my view, it’s an absurd idea, because it would really overburden households even further,” he said.

IMPACT ON TOURISM

The chief executive officer of Namibia Tourism Board (NTB), Digu //Naobeb, this week said introducing a tolling system would make destinations uncompetitive.

“We would be very expensive, and those who hire vehicles would be affected worse. They are already paying for annual licences.

“Tourists hiring these cars would now pay additional toll fees and that would be very expensive. We know in South Africa the tolls did not work, that’s why they are busy suspending them,” he said.

//Naobeb said local travellers would be affected negatively too.

“The RFA is getting some of the percentages from the fuel whenever it increases, and it will be expensive for us as citizens to travel around our country,” he said.

ALTERNATIVES

PDM lawmaker Nico Smit called on the RFA to properly tax foreign-owned heavy duty trucks.

“I support the thing of the weighbridge where those heavily loaded trucks are, because they are causing most damage to our roads. Those trucks that are coming from Zambia, those copper and ore that they are bringing in, they must pay high,” he said.

“If they have to introduce a toll road, I just want to know where is the alternative road? . . . We can only think of introducing toll roads if there are additional roads that can be used,” he said.

However, Walvis Bay Corridor Group project manager Gilbert Boois said toll fees would not negatively affect the logistics industry as it would only be introduced on certain roads.

“Also, when people start experiencing the benefits of safe roads and quality roads, they will not mind paying the fees, because eventually all the toll money will be used to upgrade and maintain the roads.

“It’s an acceptable law in Zambia and Tanzania, and more companies pay, but if the road quality is very poor with potholes, then people will be reluctant to pay,” Boois said.

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

The RFA will launch nationwide public engagements to sensitise road users on tolling.

“So, by the time the decision is made, at least the road users and the community will appreciate where we are coming from with the tolling agenda,” Ipinge said.

“It is a new concept for Namibia, but in the Southern African Development Community, with the exception of Botswana, all the other countries have toll roads,” he said.

However, Jauch said the Namibian authorities should learn from South Africa.

“I am surprised with all the verdicts in South Africa where there was social unrest over toll gates, especially in areas around Gauteng. I am surprised that we are now going to follow the same example, which will only make matters worse,” he said.

South Africa’s minister of finance, Enoch Godongwana, last week announced what could be a death-knell for that country’s-tolling system in especially Gauteng.

Instead, the national treasury committed to fund road projects through the South African National Roads Agency.

RFA executive for planning Namene Kalili yesterday said more funds are required as the current levels of road user charges remain inadequate to fund the maintenance of the current road network.

Kalili says the fund has completed a financial evaluation for the proposed tolling programme.

He was speaking during the launch of the RFA’s six-year business plan in Windhoek yesterday.

“This would bring another billion to the RFA’s coffers and set the organisation onto a more sustainable revenue path as we transition towards a distance-based road-user charging model,” he said.





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