16th. August, 2019
The Engineering Institution of Zambia (EIZ) and the Economics Association of Zambia (EAZ) were invited for an appreciation tour of the National Road Fund Agency (NRFA) Head Office in Lusaka and the Shimabala Toll Plaza in Kafue on 16 August 2019. The EIZ team was led by President, Eng. Sydney M. Matamwandi, and Acting Registrar, Eng. Rev. Happy Musumali, while Dr. Lubinda Haabazoka led the EAZ team. At HQ, the team toured the state-of-the-art Central Control Room where screens connected to Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras installed in all Toll Plazas across the country are monitored 24/7 by a team of dedicated staff. The high-resolution cameras are able to show in realtime every detail of happenings at Toll Plazas, including the cashiers in the booths, the vehicles on each lane, the drivers and number plates. The Centre also captures statistics of traffic flows and amounts collected.
In his brief to the team, the CEO, Eng Wallece Mumba, explained that NRFA is an institution in the road sector and draws its mandate from the National Road Fund Act No. 13 of 2002 and exists to “mobilise resources and administer the Road Fund in a transparent and sustainable way to stimulate socio-economic development”. As of Q2 2019, the Authority administered 31 Toll Collection points across the country with 21 in-land Toll Stations (17 Toll Plazas and 4 Weighbridges) and 9 Ports of Entry. In terms of collections, the Authority had realized K336 million against a target of K322 million for the accounting period ended 30 June 2019. The above-target performance was due to effective use of modern technology coupled with efficient application of world class management systems, policies and supervision best practices. With an additional 4 Collection points expected to be commissioned by end of year, the forecast collection is K1.04 billion. He emphasised that though NRFA was meeting and exceeding performance targets, management consistently invited stakeholders such as professional bodies to consult and exchange views on how to solve existing problems and take advantage of available opportunities, both technological and economic. It was in this spirit that EIZ and EAZ were invited. Despite improved collections at tolling points, the revenues were far less than what GRZ was spending on new roads and maintenance of existing ones. The Treasury foots the difference, hence the urgency to solicit new ideas on how the road sector could be self financing.
In his reaction, Eng. Matamwandi acknowledged the exceedingly clean and impressive infrastructure at both HQ and Shimabala Plaza where workers operated in a decent environment: spacious offices; ergonomic furniture; cooling and heating units; running water; and access ways for the differently-abled. He also thanked NRFA for employing many Engineering Professionals in various departments, particularly females and prioritizing the recruiting of locals in areas where Toll Plazas are installed across the country. Eng Matamwandi reiterated the message that EIZ shared the position of the Ministry of Infrastructure that costs of projects, especially in the Road Sector, must go down to levels comparable to what was obtaining in other countries. It was therefore important that money collected by NRFA ought to be utilized transparently, prudently and in priority areas. However, he cautioned against arbitrarily describing every project as expensive. The Shimabala Toll Plazza had many components, tangible and intangible, that cost money, including: concrete and steel structures; furniture; computer servers; power supply from three sources (solar, diesel generator and Zesco grid), electric Substation with transformer; borehole with pump and water articulation pipes; fibre optic cable connection to Lusaka and wireless backup; high-resolution cameras; large monitors; computers; cash registers that are not cheap to procure. A Toll Plaza is a complex system with many accessories and a team of highly-qualified and dedicated personnel to operate and maintain it. The Zambian Plazas are among the most advanced in Africa and EIZ was pleased that tolling agencies from other countries in the region have been coming to learn and benchmark with Zambia. The Shimabala Toll Plaza between Lusaka and Kafue is an ultramodern facility and services an average of over 6,000 vehicles per day, the second busiest (after Michael Chilufya Sata Toll Plaza) in the country.
Congratulations team NRFA for blowing the myth that Zambians can’t operate advanced systems. Zambia’s Tolling program is the envy of the region, a mark of technological excellence, a symbol of efficient service delivery and a benchmark of prudent stewardship of public resources. Keep it up! In support of technological sophistication and ease of payment at the Toll Gate, EIZ is encouraging all its members, and the general public, to apply and get Road User Master Toll Card that can be swiped instead of carrying cash.
As regards areas of opportunities, EIZ encouraged NRFA to utilize its core competences in Tolling and CCTV technology to partner with local authorities and Football Association of Zambia to put tolling facilities in some roads leading to central business districts and car parks at shopping malls and sports stadium. The city councils should own all car parks at malls. That way they could get revenues to continued maintenance of parking areas and township roads.