BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The state of Zimbabwe’s roads is the stuff of legend. From whole trucks submerged in water-filled craters right in the central business district to gruesome road accidents, motorists must navigate hazards like these every day.
For Naison Maravanyika, a 36-year-old taxi driver who knows Bulawayo’s streets like the back of his hand, the conditions demand that he drives like a Hollywood stuntman.
“These roads are not for amateurs,” he said navigating the edges of a road that has been eaten away, the remaining asphalt a thin winding stretch that resembles one long lifeless snake.
“No one is fixing these roads, but we are paying a fortune to Zinara (the Zimbabwe National Road Authority),” Maravanyika said.
Motorists must pay tolls to Zinara, but a report delivered to parliament last month by Zimbabwe’s Auditor General (AG) Mildred Chiri revealed widespread abuse of funds in the road authority.
Senior Zinara officials have been awarding themselves hefty allowances not approved by the government, while flouting tender processes at a cost to the country of more than $11 million, Chiri said in the report.
They are lining their pockets from road tolls, she said. Motorists pay different rates based on vehicle size at the country’s toll gates set up by the government between major towns and cities. But the revenues are largely bankrolling the lavish lifestyles of officials, who awarded themselves unapproved “holiday allowances”, Chiri said.
The report came as the Minister of Transport Obert Mpofu announced more toll gates will be set up across the country to add $200 million a year to the government’s revenue collection base and finance planned infrastructure improvements.
At least $5 billion is needed to repair Zimbabwe’s roads over the next decade, according to official estimates.
Neither Zinara nor Mpofu have responded to requests to comment on the report’s findings.
Toll on lives
Meanwhile, police statistics reveal another toll from the disintegrating highways. In just 12 days last December, 82 people died from 1,012 road accidents, up from 822 accidents during the same month the previous year. Overall, the number of road accidents rose 9 percent in 2014 to 41,000, the latest data available.
The cost comes not only in lives lost. The health ministry said that one in four people treated in the hospitals for disabilities last year were the accident victims.
Maravanyika, the cab driver, is not surprised.
“The money is not paying for the repair of these roads. These people eat our money,” he said as he dodged oncoming traffic after encroaching into the opposite lane to avoid potholes.
Despite the AG’s blistering report, Zimbabwe opposition legislator James Maridadi offered little hope the problems will be fixed soon.
He told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that it is up to the Transport Ministry to act on Chiri’s findings, and the AG reports are of no consequence because they are merely “recommendations”.
“They are a waste of parliament’s time because the parent ministries where these corrupt officials are housed are not willing to act on these reports,” Maridadi said.
Allegations of rampant corruption at Zinara are not new.
Last year, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission named top Zinara officials in a $2 million road rehabilitation tender scam, prompting the country’s legislators to demand their imprisonment.
But the police, who respond to criminal complaints from the ministries, have brought no charges nor made arrests.
“Ministers cannot act on corruption because they are themselves benefiting from it,” Maridadi, the opposition legislator said.
Reporting Marko Phiri, editing by Stella Dawson and Leslie Gevirtz