Victor Maphosa Correspondent
Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) officers have defrauded the entity of at least US$30 000, and perhaps as much as US$450 000 in a cheating scam using tollgate coupons issued to foreign truckers at border posts.
Nine officers have already been arrested and are before the courts, while others have been fired. The system of cancelling coupons has since been upgraded to plug loopholes.
Foreign commercial truckers using Zimbabwean roads pay their full set of toll fees once-off in foreign currency on entry and are issued with coupons at the border post they use to enable them to pass easily through all subsequent tollgates.
In the scam, officers charged with collecting these transit fees would issue and then cancel the coupons, on a false pretext, but still collected the foreign currency.
The cancelled coupons would then be issued to other truckers for the standard fees, with only one payment recorded in Zinara’s books and the rest of the money pocketed by the issuing officer.
Coupons were entered as cancelled on the grounds the trucker had not proceeded with the journey or that the wrong numbers had been entered.
But in all cases, the unsuspecting foreign trucker paid the full fee, as did the second driver who received the cancelled coupons which still looked like new.
The duped truckers would start meeting problems at the first tollgate from the border when coupon readers warn that the coupons were cancelled.
After debate and listening to the drivers, Zinara would end up allowing the vehicle to pass despite the system confirming the cancellation.
So two trucks in effect used one coupon.
In some cases, impatient drivers would bear the brunt of paying again to avoid delays.
A sophisticated monitoring system that supports Zinara’s operations exposed the rot, resulting in the arrest of at least nine officers, six from Beitbridge, two at Victoria Falls and one from Nyamapanda.
So far, at least US$30 000 was reported stolen in the scam, while investigations are still in progress to verify the genuineness of other cancellations involving US$450 000.
Zinara acting chief executive officer Mr Saston Muzenda said an internal audit corroborated findings by the system run by Univern Enterprises.
“Yes, I can confirm that the organisation was prejudiced of thousands of United States dollars in fraudulent coupon cancellations by our representatives at the borders,” he said.
“Some of these officers have since been dismissed from work while others are in court over the issue. Their illegal activities were picked by the system. We also carried out internal audits which unearthed the rot.
“Some of these officers would cancel a coupon and falsely state that the truck would have failed to proceed with the trip. However, the same truck does not stop and cameras at various tollgates captured the vehicles in transit.
“That is what our audit also showed.”
Mr Muzenda said investigations were still underway and Zinara could have lost more in the scam that is believed to have started in 2017.
The checking system is integrated with the tolling system such that all vehicles in transit are issued with a bar-coded transit coupon, which is then scanned and authenticated at the tollgates between the entry border post and the Zimbabwean destination or the exit border post.
In one case, a cashier stationed at Beitbridge Border Post was captured by the system issuing a coupon valued at US$120 for a truck destined for Harare.
She then cancelled the coupon, but reissued it some hours later to another truck driver going the same direction.
Investigations revealed that both vehicles travelled and completed their journeys using the same coupon. It was also established that both paid US$120 to the cashier, but only US$120 of the US$240 paid reached Zinara.
Sometimes checks are lax.
At Mushagashi tollgate, transit coupon number 175S1MLW2920180624102 (Jira ticket-TF1174) was read by the system as invalid.
Investigations by the Univern call centre revealed that the coupon had been cancelled, yet the driver had passed through Lutumba and Chivi tollgates without any challenges.
This prompted further investigations into the manner in which the coupons were being cancelled at the borders.
Beitbridge, according to investigations, recorded the highest number of cancellations, followed by Nyamapanda.
Univern chief executive officer Mr Phil Mushosho said a raft of measures were now in place to plug the loopholes.
“We have amended our system to ensure that once a coupon has been scanned and passed the first toll gate, it cannot be cancelled,” he said.
“The coupon cannot be cancelled for 48 hours after being issued. Whenever the need to cancel coupons arises, the officers have to contact our call centre and provide all the necessary information supporting their request.
“Upon satisfaction that the request is genuine, authority to cancel will be granted.”