FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube last week agreed to soften his stance on traffic fines, adding an amendment that allows magistrates to use their discretion when imposing them.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
In the 2019 budget statement, Ncube increased fines for traffic offences like proceeding against a red robot, overtaking over a solid line, encroaching into oncoming traffic to avoid congestion, dropping passengers at undesignated points, driving without head or side lights, among others, to fine levels eight to 10, which attract a maximum fine of $700 and imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months.
Opposition MPs felt that Ncube’s fine levels were too high to the extent motorists would end up filling jails for failure to pay them, and Ncube responded by amending clause 28 of Finance No. 3 Bill to read that traffic fines would be “the maximum, but not the prescribed level” to allow for flexibility.
Nkulumane MP Kucaca Phulu (MDC Alliance) said: “For some of these driving offences – if you take into account the salaries that people earn like civil servants and even Members of Parliament – yes, the fines must be biting, but we will end up having our jails inundated with people that are unable to pay these fines,” Phulu said.
“This was the point of reference which led to the events of November 2017 (when former President Robert Mugabe was deposed), because people were being milked of their money using these fines. It is undesirable to have fines at that level because they are 300% of your salary. We suggest that perhaps these fines need to be rationalised massively, so that they are in accord with the level of income of Zimbabweans,” he said.
Zengeza West MP Job Sikhala (MDC Alliance) said even though fines must be in place for punitive purposes, if they were outrageously high, it would defeat logic and reason.
“The moment when a fine becomes unreachable by the intended offender, it is no longer serving its purpose,” Sikhala said.
Sikhala suggested that level one and level two fines should remain at $20, level three at $60, but he queried why the minister had jumped from $60 for level three crimes to $400 for level four crimes.
“I would suggest that level five be $200 and not $800, because how does it double from level four at $400 to $800?” Sikhala said.
Harare East MP Tendai Biti (MDC Alliance) said by fixing the traffic fines, legislators were treading on the grounds of the Judiciary, adding that section 2 of the Constitution recognised the principle of separation of powers.
“It is the Judiciary which sets fines. Penalties must be proportional to the wrong that is committed. So, you have a situation where, from $20 to $60, there has been a doubling up of the penalties since 2009.
“So, where you have $20, it used to be $10; where you have $30, it used to be $15; where you have $60, it used to be $30, doubling up. However, when it comes from level 4 to level 14, there has been a quadrupling of the penalty. What is the justification of quadrupling, when with level one to three, you have doubled? Is it because of inflation? It cannot be because of inflation because from 2009, our inflation has not quadrupled,” Biti said.
Finance minister Ncube’s response was that the levels of the traffic fines which he set were the maximums payable as penalties.
“For instance, from level one to level three, that is a spot fine, but beyond that, which is level four to level 14, that is the maximum that a magistrate can charge.
I am not saying the magistrate may not use it. They may use it. What I am proposing is that we insert the word maximum monetary amount on that column,” he said.
Ncube said level one to three fines, which are spot fines, would remain between $20 and $60, while level four fine would be $100, level five $200; level six $400; level seven $800; level eight $1 200; level nine $1 600; level 10 $2 000; level 11 $2 500; level 12 $3 000 and level 13 $5 000, while level 14 would be at $10 000.