Strategy recommends changes in the composition of Mozambican public debt
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Mozambique’s Minister of Public Works, Joao Machatine, declared on Tuesday that the collection of tolls on the Maputo Ring Road will go ahead as planned, on 1 February.
A campaign by some civil society organisations against the new tolls is under way. The tolls have been labelled “unjust”, “fraudulent”, “extortionate” and even “criminal”.
But Machatine told reporters that in reality, the tolls have been set too low. The toll for a light vehicle is 40 meticais (about 63 US cents, at the current exchange rate), but the Minister believed an economically rational toll would be between 50 and 65 meticais. The state had reduced the toll to 40 meticais as part of its “social responsibility”.
There are four toll gates along the 70 kilometre ring road – but that does not mean a motorist will have to pay a new toll every 20 kilometres. A motorist should keep the receipt from the first toll, and that will exempt him from paying at the other toll gates on the same journey.
The toll gates are located at Costa do Sol, Zintava, Cumbeza and Matola-Gare. The toll at each gate is 40 meticais for light vehicles, minibuses and motorcycles. The toll for vans and buses is 140 meticais, and for heavier vehicles, with three or four axles, it is 380 meticais. Heavy goods vehicles, with five or more axles, will pay 580 meticais every time they use the Ring Road.
Passenger transport vehicles enjoy a discount of 75 per cent. Thus the toll for a bus is 35 rather than 140 meticais. The minibuses (known as “chapas”) that provide much of Greater Maputo’s passenger transport will pay ten meticais instead of 40.
Light vehicles which use the Ring Road frequently will receive a discount. The discount for vehicles which make between 11 and 20 journeys along the road in a month is seven per cent, rising to 60 per cent for any light vehicle which makes more than 60 journeys in a month.
The Ring Road is operated by the company Revimo (Road Network of Mozambique). This is technically a private company, but all its shareholders are public bodies. Initially 100 per cent of the shares were held by the government’s Road Fund. 30 per cent of the shares were then sold – 15 per cent to the National Social Security Institute (INSS) and 15 per cent to Kuhanya, the company that runs the Bank of Mozambique’s Pension Fund.
Opponents of the toll gates claim that Revimo has no right to levy tolls, since it did not build the Ring Road, which resulted from a Chinese loan, and has not paid anything towards the road. Machatine said the claim is untrue – through its two new shareholders, Revimo has attracted 40 million dollars, which was used in part to complete the Tchumene Junction (where the Ring Road intersects with the Maputo-South Africa motorway), as well as to install lighting along parts of the road, and to build the toll gates themselves.
He said the toll gates will generate at least 550 jobs for Mozambicans. “We have young people who are being trained, and they will guarantee the operation of the toll gates”, Machatine stressed. “These are direct jobs. Then we have indirect jobs provided by the companies that will maintain the Ring Road”.
There was nothing new about the idea of installing toll gates along the Ring Road. Machatine pointed out that the Ring Road was always envisaged as a toll road, and that was clear before construction began in 2012.
He added that new industries and housing estates were springing up alongside the Ring Road. “We have thousands and thousands of people who are becoming dependent on the Maputo Ring Road”, he said.
This made it imperative to ensure the longevity of the road, “so that these companies and these individuals can continue to circulate in a predictable manner”.
One of the main objections to the toll gates is that the government supposedly has a legal obligation to provide “alternative routes” for those unable or unwilling to pay the tolls.
The Ring Road runs through heavily built up areas in Maputo city and Maputo province, which are full of side roads and alleys. Just as it is possible (albeit highly uncomfortable) to devise a route between Maputo and Matola that avoids the toll gate at the Maputo end of the Maputo-South Africa motorway, so ingenious motorists could find ways through back streets to avoid the Ring Road toll gates. But would it be worth it, just to avoid paying 40 meticais?
For Machatine, if people wanted to increase their journey time and reduce their comfort, they were free to do so.
“Alternative roads exist”, he said. “We know that, with the rains, and with the lack of maintenance, these routes demand profound intervention. We shall intervene only in those sections which are extremely critical to allow those who don’t want to save time or to travel comfortably to make enormous detours by using alternative routes”.
According to Wednesday’s issue of the independent newssheet “Mediafax”, a demonstration against the toll gates is being planned by what is described as “a group of young people”. They claim that the tolls are “unjust and suffocating”.
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has launched a petition, under the slogan “the people say no to toll gates on the Ring Road”, addressed to the Administrative Tribunal, and claiming that the tolls are “opposed to development”.
But “the people” do not pay the tolls, since the vast majority of Mozambicans do not own cars, let alone trucks. According to the latest Household Budget Survey, for 2019-2020, undertaken by the National Statistics Institute (INE), only 3.6 per cent of Mozambican households own cars, rising to 8.9 per cent in urban areas. Eight per cent of households own motorcycles.
As for the claim that bus owners will put up their fares because of the tolls, the Maputo Provincial Cooperative of Transporters denied that the discounted toll of ten meticais for minibuses would lead to any fare rises.