Landmark ruling on vehicle plates

BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE

GOVERNMENT has been ordered to reimburse motorists who paid for new vehicle registration plates in foreign currency since July last year, but failed to get them.

In a landmark ruling on Wednesday, High Court judge Justice Webster Chinamhora also ordered government to stop charging for the vehicle registration plates in United States dollars.

The ruling was made after a motorist, Mfundo Mlilo, represented by Tendai Biti, challenged the decision by the Transport ministry to charge US$80 for a set of vehicle registration plates saying it was unjustified as the country was officially transacting in Zimdollars.

The judge also ruled that the Transport ministry had no locus standi to levy charges in US dollars.

Biti confirmed the ruling in a tweet: “Pursuant to an application we filed in October 2020, the High Court today set aside SI [Statutory Instrument] 161 of 2020 which obliged payment of vehicle plates in US$. Justice Chinhamora ruled that Min of Transport had no power of levying charges in US$. Govt must now refund motorists.”

Mlilo approached the High Court in October last year, a month after his imported Subaru car was impounded by the Vehicle Inspectorate Department (VID) for failing to display registration plates.

He was ordered to pay US$80 in order to get temporary plates and an additional $100 for inspection before his car was released.

“The impounding of my vehicle without a court order and without due process was wrong and unlawful, this in the first part of this application I seek a declaratory to the effect that in impounding my vehicle without warranty and without an order of court as he did on September 21, 2020, the respondent acted unlawfully,” he wrote in his application.

“The first respondent (Transport minister) is thus running a (money) raising scam in respect of which he is levying and collecting US$ for number plates and in the process, huge amounts of money.”

Mlilo said after his victimisation, he carried out research and established that on July 8, 2020, the Transport minister in terms of section 53 of the Vehicle Licensing Act Chapter 13:14 published the vehicle and licensing Amendment Regulations 2020, known as SI 16 of 2020.

He challenged the SI arguing that the sole legal currency operating in Zimbabwe was the Zimbabwe dollar, also commonly referred to as Real Time Gross Settlement.

Mlilo said he was a human rights activist in Zimbabwe and throughout his life, had been fighting for protection of these rights.

“Throughout my life I fought for protection of human rights. I grew up in Matabeleland, where my family were victims of Gukurahundi. I lost several members of my family to the atrocities associated with Gukurahundi,” he told the court, citing it as a reason he why he pursued the case.

He added: “I, therefore, seek for a declaratory order in terms of the draft. I also seek a declaratory to the effect that the Minister of Transport’s impounding of my vehicle on September 21, 2020 was unlawful and not backed by any law.

“I am entitled to the benefit and protection of the Finance Act, which codifies for the use of the Zimbabwe dollar. By enacting SI 166 of 2020, the minister has denied me equal protection and benefit of SI 142 of 2019, as incorporated in the Finance Act No 7 of 2019.”

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