HARARE – Zimbabwean authorities have generated outrage after increasing spot fines by up to 100 percent to try to deter road carnage, to the bemusement and anger of many motorists.
Motorists demanded a rollback of that increase to make sure spot fines remain affordable.
This comes as Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has just slapped suffering small businesses — including hair salons, driving schools and commuter omnibuses — with taxes as he bids to shore up the State’s heavily depleted coffers.
Anarchy has ruled for years on the roads, with government moving to hit offenders harder in the wallet for breaking traffic rules, even at the lower end of the scale, with a view to force drivers to drive more responsibly.
Under new legislation outlined under the Finance Act gazetted last week Friday, spot fines for many offences rose to $30 from $20 as part of efforts to change a system that has allowed — some say even encouraged — a culture of indifference toward traffic rules and road safety.
Section 35 changes Levels 1, 2 and 3 of the Standard Scale of Fines in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act “with effect from 1st January 2017.”
Level 1 is now $10 — it was previously $5; Level 2 is $15, it was $10; and Level 3 is $30, it was $20.
Police “spot fines” have dramatically gone up, with the more serious petty traffic offences attracting a fine of $30 instead of $20 and proportionately smaller fines being requested for lesser petty offences.
The current standard scale of fines was last reviewed in February 2009, when the country migrated to the use of multi-currencies.
“Whereas the fines are supposed to be deterrent, this, however, is not being achieved due to the low level of some of the fines,” Chinamasa said in his 2017 National Budget.
Driving a vehicle without windscreen wiper and driving without head or side lights; which used to attract a $5 fine is now $10; cutting corners when turning right and failure to signal when slowing down, stopping or turning, which used to attract a $10 fine is now $20; and proceeding against a red robot; overtaking over solid line and having a non-functional foot brake which was $20 is now $30.
It is chaos on the streets, Chinamasa said.
Shared taxis called mishikashika, often with broken tail-lights, stop indiscriminately to pick-up and drop passengers.
Minibuses turn two lanes into three. Pedestrians sprint across the road. Drivers emerge from corner shops carrying beers, stepping into diesel-belching SUVs.
Such widespread disregard for personal safety and obeying the rules of the road has to be stopped in the country, the Finance minister said.
“Most of the carnage that is witnessed on the country’s roads is a result of human error arising from failure to observe road traffic regulations,” Chinamasa said.
“This is exacerbated by non-deterrent fines. It is, therefore, proposed to increase the standard scale of fines of level 1 to 3, with effect from January 1, 2017.”
Traffic accidents are among the leading killers of Zimbabwean citizens, claiming more lives than the rising levels of violent crime, which receive far more media attention.
Advocates of the deterrent road spot fines say they are desperately needed to curb the widespread flouting of road safety rules.
Street signs at major intersections warn drivers to obey traffic laws, yet these same streets are lined with petrol pumps where attendants sell beer to drivers and drive-through liquor stores.
So far, road safety education campaigns by the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe using celebrities such as musicians Sandra Ndebele and Charles Charamba, including those against drunk driving, have not resonated with ordinary people.
“The police were already extorting us and now they want to increase the spot fines. It’s a horrible lot of money they’ll be making us pay in spot fines, look at the (state of the) economy,” said motorist Gerald Mutemasango.
Each year, traffic police wielding spikes write tens of thousands of tickets for infractions such as running a red light, and speeding.
“Well, obviously, this is a positive change. At least it will bring some order,” said a policeman who was filling in a ticket for a driver who had been speeding.
“My hands are sure to be full now.”
For years, the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority has complained that the police does not remit the money it raises from fines to the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Several officers have been fired for bribe-taking, but this has done very little to eradicate the scourge.
The new fines are likely to worsen the corruption because very few people can afford to pay a $30 spot fine.
Corrupt traffic police normally negotiate for payment from offenders, which would usually be much lower than the prescribed fines.