Proposed toll roads raise concerns over road-user affordability
By Clifton Movirongo
The initiative of tolling certain national road sections in Namibia that the Road Fund Administration (RFA) is trying to introduce may face substantial criticism as many are saying that Namibia is not ready for tolling yet.
The parastatal is currently seeking policy support from the government as they said they have conducted feasibility studies that tolling of certain roads in Namibia is viable. Additionally, the RFA said other countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe have successful tolling systems as a means to justify their cause.
RFA Executive: Programme Management and Policy Advisor, Namene Kalili said both Zambia and Zimbabwe operate toll roads but with much larger populations. For Namibia with its small population, the additional burden of tolling may pose an affordability obstacle for transport.
According to United Nations (UN) data, Namibia’s 2020 population is estimated at just over 2.5 million people compared to Zimbabwe’s 2020 population which is estimated at over 14 million people.
The parastatal sees tolling as a potential means to generate revenue to cover maintenance costs for certain national roads although many people might be affected negatively by this as transport fares will automatically shift.
However, several national unions and political parties have indicated that Namibia is not ready for toll roads and that thorough studies by relevant institutions should be conducted first. The parties and unions are advising that government should not opt for tolling in a country with such a small population.
Looking at the economic implications of tolling, people who spoke to the Economist were generally of the opinion that it is not the right time to introduce tolling due to the fact that Namibia’s transport system is needs improvement in many areas before tolling can be considered.
According to newspaper reports from 2019, former Minister of Finance and current Minister of Agriculture, Hon Calle Schlettwein, said toll roads are not the answer to an already suffering economy. He opposed the idea saying it will cause disruption to the transport system and become a burden for ordinary Namibians.
It is not the first time that the RFA tried to seek support from the government regarding the introduction of toll roads as in 2008, it conducted studies and found then that toll roads are not feasible. The low volumes of traffic on most roads were cited as the biggest impediment.
Still, with the new attempt, the RFA maintains that tolls roads will generate over N$3.9 billion over a five-year period and that jobs will be created in the process.
“Although many countries globally are moving to a system of toll roads, LPM rejects toll roads for the simple reason that most Namibians are unemployed and tolling will drain a lot from peoples’ pockets. It will be too much of a burden on tax payers, so government must stop copy and paste policies that do not resonate with our infrastructure development aims just yet,” commented Henny Seibeb, the LPM deputy.
PDM president, McHenry Venaani said his party is not supportive of toll systems adding that tolling will contribute to another recession especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still in play.
“Government should not punish people with tolling, and I doubt that the RFA will get the policy support it is looking for from the government,” he said.