Some ideas sound foreign and lacking merit the very second they are aired, and they become even more detached from reality the more scrutiny is paid on them, this is true of the suggestion of paid parking in Bulawayo. This is not an idea coming from Bulawayo residents and it is clearly lacking merit. We cannot say it is wrong or right before the mayor’s office gives its justification for such action.
When boundaries are blurred or confused, effectiveness of any role is compromised. The mayor is a symbol of authority – robes, chains, etc. are indicators of this authority. He speaks for the residents of Bulawayo and gives identity to the City; he is the symbol of an open society – he represents all class, linguistic groups, tribes, religion, etc. and acts as an expression of social cohesion, i.e., acts as a link between many organisations operating within the City.
Taking the above into account, the mayor who happens to be the senior leader of the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) is our servant with accountability to the public; he is not there to represent ZANU PF authority in Matabeleland but to reflect residents’ wishes and desires. The public is therefore not asking for too much when it seeks feedback from the mayor’s office to understand why and how it has become necessary for Bulawayo motorists to pay to park their cars.
It is understood TENDY Three Investments (TTI), a local company which was awarded the city of Bulawayo’s vehicle parking management tender, will work with the BCC in the provision of the new vehicle management system in the city. Can we be given more information about TTI’s ownership? Who are its directors? And for transparency purposes, which other potential investors forwarded their proposals before local authority officials?
This parking management project is obviously not a public undertaking and it has no public interest at its core. We note the BCC’s Corporate Communications manager’s response in a February 2022 interview in which she alleges a consultative stakeholders meeting was held in September 2021. While she confidently states that the engagement was held with various stakeholders who included the business community, non-governmental organisations, local leadership, transport sector, informal sector, media and residents’ associations among others, she does not disclose the outcome of the consultation.
When the government approved the $2.2m project in August 2020, there was talk of a 30/70 model in which BCC was to invest 30% and a private investor accounting for 70%. We note however, in a similar project, Harare city authorities awarded the tender to City Parking, a company wholly owned by the city. Why has BCC opted for a partnership with a private investor?
Copying Western ideas and/ or innovation seems to be independent Africa’s highest level of ‘innovation’, but good as some may be, Western ideas are based on the West’s perception of the world and/ or identification of specific problems within its environment and outcomes derived from local research of viable solutions.
Justification of the city’s actions is necessary. On the surface the Bulawayo city’s move appears to be an insensitive action of authorities who have lost touch with residents; the city authorities are willingly colluding with some privileged private individuals in an attempt to abuse motorists for revenue generation. We believe it is morally wrong for city authorities to implement Western style interventions for non-existent Bulawayo traffic problems.
While it is clear and easy to understand why New Yorkers, Londoners and motorists in other major cities in the West are paying for parking, the same cannot be said of Bulawayo motorists. It is difficult to condone the action just as it is impossible to believe Bulawayo is overwhelmed by demand for parking spaces. We are willing to give the mayor’s office the chance to provide evidence that proves the case for parking fees, but the waiting time is finite.
All we ask the mayor’s office is to come out and explain why that action is necessary. Some specific questions need to be addressed: how much does it cost each city resident in taxes to reserve parking spaces? Even more important, who conducted the study from which his office draws its conclusion to introduce paid parking?
Revenue collection process is a matter of interest with focus being on how the money will be used; this must be open for public scrutiny. Among problematic factors, the proportionality of the fees is a disturbing one. We have been told that BCC will use the revenue collected (which estimated to be between $1.1m to $1.5m) to rehabilitate the poorly maintained local road network.
It would also be interesting to know how the parking fees have been calculated and why. At a glance the fees do not seem to reflect economic realities and residents have already voiced concerns that they are very high and unaffordable: a 30 minutes parking will cost a US$1 while an hour will cost US$2. Two hours of parking will go for US$4 and a full day’s parking will cost US$16.
As it stands, the parking fees rate cannot be justified just as much as charging foreign currency for what is essentially a public service is immoral. BCC’s behaviour shows all that is wrong with the ruling party and government, the two institutions controlling politics in the country. The public is taken for granted.
When injustice is not challenged, it is normalised and embraced. The parking management project is an unjustified and ill-advised economic venture, and not a public service. The BCC has lost its connection with the residents and turned into a cold-hearted capitalist monster with no regard for its own residents. If a consultation process took place, what was the outcome? Until the BCC and its business partner TTI show residents and justify the model they used to calculate the cost of each parking lot, it would be difficult to justify the rates, and unfair to charge motorists.