The government has vowed to go ahead with the collection of fees at Chingeni Toll Plaza, which becomes operational today.
This is despite that Minibus Owners Association of Malawi (Moam) and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) have indicated that they will today hold demonstrations to express their displeasure at the development.
Government spokesperson Gospel Kazako said the K3,400 per-passage fee that applies to minibuses had not changed.
The list of fees at the gates indicates that light vehicles are paying K1,700 while trucks that carry abnormal loads are paying K20,000 for a one-way trip.
On top of that, 17 to 31-seater buses and 2 to 5-tonne trucks are paying K5,100 while vehicles weighing between 5 and 10 tonnes are coughing K7,000, with K8,000 being applicable to trucks weighing more than 10 tonnes.
However, taking advantage of government officials’ recent consultations with stakeholders, Moam asked the government, through Roads Fund Administration, to consider reducing fees for minibuses from K3400 to K500.
Kazako said the fees have not changed.
He, however, said the government would deal with other complaints the association raised.
“We told them outright that the K3,400 fee cannot be reduced any further but we would end the ‘Mwini Mgodi’ and call boys’ syndicate so that the minibus owners themselves have enough money for the toll gates. It is only Malawi Revenue Authority who are supposed to be collecting tax and this [callboys’ practice of demanding money from minibus owners when a minibus is fulled to capacity] has been banned forthwith,” he said.
Kazako said the gate fees would help the country have well maintained roads and also enable it to construct new roads.
Moam General Secretary Coaxley Kamange said the fees were on the higher side.
He said the fees would negatively affect minibus operations in the country as business had been negatively affected by economic challenges, some of which were a direct effect of the Covid pandemic.
And, in a statement, HRDC Chairperson Gift Trapence said the fees ought not to be prohibitive and should not be used to impinge on economic freedoms of Malawians.
“It is an open secret that more than half of earnings by Malawians go back to State coffers through payment of various taxes. Government is being unreasonable to Malawians by adding more high fees and taxes. We would like government to justify how it arrived at these toll gate figures. The State must expressly demonstrate if these fees are in tandem with the current cost of living for Malawians,” he said.
He further said the government was failing to account for the fuel levies it collects from fuel sales.
“Before government starts collecting gate fees, it must explain how the money will be administered and used. That piece of accountability will ensure that there is no abuse of funds, just like is the case with other state funds,” Trapence said.
Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (Cdedi) Executive Director Sylvester Namiwa told The Daily Times yesterday that implementation of gate fees is a “manifestation of the current administration’s growing arrogance and intolerance”.
Namiwa said Malawians were already suffering economically, citing the Covid pandemic and low take-home income as some of the challenges that necessitate the application of “considerate fees” at toll gates.
“This government has done nothing tangible to Malawians since it took over power. All it knows is punishing Malawians with punitive taxes and other unnecessary measures.
“In the case of tollgate operationalisation, what is happening here is double taxation because Malawians already contribute to road construction efforts through the fuel level. For every litre of fuel, the government cuts something for road construction. Therefore, it is wrong for the government to be collecting money for one purpose from the same overburdened individual through different means,” Namiwa said.
He said his organisation was in support of mass demonstrations on the issue.
Moan is expected to hold a nationwide strike over the matter today and HRDC as well as Cdedi have pledged to join the protest.
Meanwhile, Kazako has asked those who will be demonstrating to be responsible.
He said the strike should be lawful, adding that there should be no blocking of roads to enable others to have safe passage on public roads of Malawi.