HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s stone-broke government has increased traffic spot fines by nearly 100 percent, in a controversial move it claims will reduce road accidents.
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 bid to shore up the State’s heavily depleted coffers.
The new spot fines were announced in last Friday’s Government Gazette and have already taken effect.
“Most of the carnage that is witnessed on the country’s roads are a result of human error arising from failure to observe road traffic regulations.
“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 1 January 2017,” Chinamasa said.
Curiously, the new traffic fines were announced just weeks after police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri had called for steep increases in the spot fines, which he said would curb Zimbabwe’s worsening road carnage and reckless driving.
Level 1 fines are now pegged at $10 from $5; while level 2 fines have been increased to $15 from $10; and level 3 fines have been pegged at $30 from $20.
Driving a vehicle without windscreen wipers and driving without head or side lights, which used to attract a $5 fine now attracts a fine of $10.
Cutting corners when turning right and failure to signal when slowing down, stopping or turning, which used to attract a $10 fine now costs $20; and proceeding against a red traffic light, overtaking over solid lines and having a non-functional foot brake is now pegged at $30 from the previous $20.
The current standard scale of fines was last reviewed in February 2009, when the country migrated to the multi-currency regime.
In February, Chihuri told legislators that the government must hike spot fines to stem both road carnage and crimes, including drunken driving.
The police chief told the parliamentary portfolio committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development, which was touring the law enforcement agency’s transport management and computerisation centre in Chikurubi, that legislators should push for steep fines for traffic violations, including drunken driving — measures he claimed would result in road discipline.
“The (current) fines are such that once you pay, you forget it. Take for example in Germany, if you commit an offence, they take all your number plates and for you to get one plate (back), you need to fork out $10 000, which is $20 000 for the two,” Chihuri told the lawmakers.
“I think for us, the number of people who commit road offences will continue to increase with such fines. But with the new system, all this will be a thing of the past.”
The High Court last month gave relief to thousands of motorists who complain about the random and unrelenting harassment at roadblocks by police, when it ruled that there was no law that allowed police to confiscate licences and impound vehicles of drivers who refused to pay spot fines.
This was after police had admitted that they had no right to force drivers to pay spot fines.
In the High Court application filed by Andrew Makunura, who was represented by Tonderai Bhatasara, in which he sought an order barring police from demanding spot fines, and that he be given back his driver’s licence, police made the welcome concession that paying spot fines was optional.
Judge Esther Muremba subsequently ruled that spot fines were illegal.
“As a result, police officers are allowed to accept fines from motorists at roadblocks if motorists are admitting to the offences and are willing to pay the fine to save themselves from the trouble of having to pay the fine later or from having to appear in court on a subsequent date to answer to the charges that they are already admitting to.
“What is illegal is for police officers at roadblocks to force motorists to pay spot fines against their will,” Muremba said in her ruling.