Interview: Zinara takes steps to root out corruption

Nkosinathi Ncube

By Taura Mangudhla
A LEGACY of corruption and operational problems at tolls has tarnished the image of the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara).

News Day (ND) chief reporter Taura Mangudhla interviewed the general manager of Zinara Nkosinathi Ncube (NN) on these challenges.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

ND: You are a financier, how do you intend to use your skills and experience to improve Zinara?
NN: Zinara was marred by issues inherited from Grant Thornton’s 2018 audit report.

We have made great strides in resolving the issues highlighted in the report.

Our line Ministry (Transport and Infrastructure Development) through the Minister will announce progress.

Now we are now building a new Zinara in which we are reconfiguring our ICT department to minimize the human interface in all our operations.

We promote various products of a digital nature for a seamless service offering to our valued customers.

One of the key areas is the introduction of electronic tolling, where 27 companies, local and international, have submitted their bids and we are in the process of finalizing this process.

To improve efficiency, we are also upgrading our vehicle registration system to plug any suspected leaks that have been reported in the past.

Additionally, we have established a Risk and Loss Control Department which, in addition to normal risk profiling, will also use data analytics techniques to mitigate fraud in our operations.

ND: You recently launched the prepaid card, what is its performance, and are there other new features on the cards?
NN: The prepaid card is a prepayment facility that businesses and individuals can use to pre-finance their toll charges. We currently have over 70,000 registered cards.

The card is funded in local currency at any Zinara office and through all tolls and we recently launched it on the ZimSwitch platform so customers can fund their accounts at their convenience from their mobile banking apps. .

The card completes transactions in less than five seconds from the time the card is produced until the toll receipt is issued, the card being scanned by the revenue clerk and funds are automatically deducted from the customer’s account, making it a contactless transaction.

This makes the prepaid card the fastest way to pay today, helping to reduce congestion due to increased turnaround times.

ND: What about new initiatives?
NN: We have the Frequent Traveler Express Pass (FTEP), which was introduced in November 2021. This is another prepayment facility that complements the payment methods already available to the motoring public.

The FTEP offers a number of passes that customers can pre-pay for and receive a disc similar to a license disc provided they have a valid vehicle licence.

The minimum number of passes is currently 15 and the maximum is 35 passes per month. Any remaining passes that are not used during the month rollover to the next month until the passes are used up.

This method of payment is also fast since it takes less than five seconds to process and print the receipt at the toll. FTPP has offline functionality, therefore, does not depend on the financial institution’s network connectivity to process.

The customer is pre-funded for passes that are unaffected by a potential toll charge change, locking in value for money for the customer.

ND: What is the breakdown of toll payment methods?
NN: Swipe or POS [point-of-sale] is 48%, the Zinara prepaid card (20%), cash (17%), mobile money (13%) and FTP (2%).

ND: According to your assessment, what causes congestion at tolls and what can be done to solve this problem?
NN: There are a number of causes, but two main causes are: the small toll infrastructure that we are addressing through the development of tolls, and the slow payment method in smart cards.

Swiped cards sometimes last 20 seconds or more, which naturally leads to traffic buildup during peak hours or weekends.

The location of toll booths reduces the reliability of mobile network connectivity, with the average distance between toll booths and the nearest town being 25 km.

Poor connectivity leads to longer processing time for customers who pay by swipe and mobile money.

The introduction of prepayment facilities has helped to reduce transaction time at payment points.

We are working very well with all network providers to energize the network.

For customers paying in US dollars, we sometimes experience currency exchange issues.

A large number of customers bring notes denominated in higher US dollars (US$) and often have to wait for long periods of time until the change is found in order for them to proceed.

We continually encourage the automotive public to use small denominations to facilitate transactions. When the tolls were built around 2010, there were enough lanes for the nationwide vehicle population.

Currently, the infrastructure cannot respond adequately to the vehicle fleet which has increased considerably. Inadequate lanes create congestion at tolls.

Toll expansion has begun, notably at the Norton Toll. Other toll sites awaiting expansion are Shamva, Esigodini, Dema and Skyline.

The problem of vehicles breaking down in the toll area and sometimes blocking the lanes, thus preventing the free flow of traffic, has been solved by Statutory Instrument 250 of 2021 in order to minimize the lack of urgency sometimes shown by some motorists when a vehicle breaks down at the toll.

ND: During the annual general meeting (AGM), you declared that you were going to comply with the corporate governance statutes and that you were working on the 2021 annual report. When are you planning to publish it?
NN: With the 2019 and 2020 Annual General Meetings now complete, the focus is now on the financial statements ending December 31, 2021.

This year’s audit process will focus on 2021 and we expect to hold the AGM by November 2022.

ND: The Plumtree road loan gave your organization headaches. Is there room to possibly push for US dollar toll charges at least on the specific route in order for you to repay the loans?
NN: As an administration, we are also sensitive to what motorists experience and we have endeavored to develop loan solutions using available resources and without weighing down the motorist.

We have restructured the facility with the Development Bank of Southern Africa and it is good to report that Zimbabwe is now compliant in this regard.

ND: There have been reports of corruption in Zinara, where millions have disappeared, what are you doing as an executive to avoid a repeat?
NN: It is a reality that the legacy issues of corruption at Zinara will be with the institution for some time to come.

However, it is important to note that the restructuring of Zinara, focusing on its core mandate, means that Zinara now only interacts with the 92 road authorities across the country and does not interact directly with road contractors.

This ensures that Zinara concentrates on collecting, managing the fund and disbursing to road authorities.

This has brought transparency to Zinara’s operations as it is easy to account for funds received.

The road administration also put in place strong processes and procedures across all functions of the business, including the creation of departments that were non-existent but important such as procurement and risk and loss control.

To ensure that funds are collected smoothly, we have set up fully-fledged ICT and risk and loss control departments to mitigate any fraudulent activity using the latest technology, including the use of CCTV techniques and data analysis.

Working under the direction of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, we have set up an Integrity Committee and this Integrity Committee focuses on putting in place proper processes and procedures to root out corruption.

ND: How involved are you in quality assurance when disbursing funds for roads and what do you do to ensure funds are not wasted?

NN: Road authorities are mandated to disburse the funds they have received for the intended purpose and only then will they be allocated additional funds.

The actual evaluation of the works carried out on the roads is mainly carried out by the road authority.

However, Zinara also tracks funds through its technical department and audit department and shares reports with road authorities and the Ministry of Transport.

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