By Victor Maphosa
Thirty Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) cashiers have been fired for fraud and theft.
This comes after the authority uncovered systematic scams at four tollgates involving cashiers, supervisors and police officers manning the gates.
The loot was shared with everyone involved, from the supervising tollgate controllers down to the cleaners on an agreed hierarchy scale.
Fourteen of the fired cashiers were based at Skyline tollgate along the Harare-Masvingo Highway, while the other 16 were from Dema, Shurugwi and Shamva tollgates.
Investigations are now moving to other tollgates.
At the Shamva tollgate, the stupidity of a cashier made discovery easy.
This crook used the registration number of an exempt diplomatic car to let another 46 vehicles through in just one week, pocketing the $460 in fees paid by unsuspecting drivers.
But records show that the diplomatic car went through the gate one-way 46 times, and never returned in the opposite direction, raising suspicion and making detection easy.
Zinara now suspects it might have lost millions of dollars over the years if fraud was as widespread and as sophisticated as is feared.
Even some police officers deployed at tollgates for security reasons were sucked into the scam.
On a “good day” a cashier and a police officer could each pocket more than $200.
In the latest disciplinary actions, some cashiers have only been transferred to other tollgates, possibly because there was inadequate proof.
It is only recently that Zinara has installed systems that allow proper auditing of tollgates.
Investigations by The Herald showed that the cashiers were sold out by the sophisticated control system which showed videos and registration numbers for all vehicles that pass through the gates daily.
A mismatch between the punched registration numbers and the plates on the actual vehicles that passed through the gate, were noted by the system, prompting the security company to compile reports for Zinara’s attention.
The previous leadership reportedly did not act on the reports, but that changed with the new board chaired by Mr Michael Madanha, who acted on the report.
Zinara’s acting chief executive officer Mr Suston Muzenda confirmed the corrupt activities by employees.
“The dismissed cashiers have been using various methods to steal from the organisation, which included punching registration numbers of exempted vehicles on non-exempted ones,” he said.
“They would punch details of exempted cars on any other vehicles without exemption. The system would automatically record that an exempted car has passed, when cameras showed that it was actually another vehicle not on exemption.”
Mr Muzenda said cashiers also took advantage of busy times of the day where they manually opened boom gates as a way of “easing” traffic congestion.
“However, during the congestion moment, cashiers would be collecting cash from motorists by opening the boom gate manually. This allowed some vehicles to just pass through without being issued with receipts,” he said.
One of the fired cashiers, who was based at Skyline tollgate (name withheld), narrated how they milked Zinara using the manual payment system.
He disclosed that each cashier would contribute a fixed amount, which will be shared among other workers like police officers and cleaners who had no access to cash.
“All cashiers were instructed through their senior cashiers from the tolling controller that they had to subscribe on daily basis and the proceeds were to benefit everyone providing manpower at the tollgate.
“At the end of every shift, each cashier would contribute money, which could have been left by motorists.
Cashiers also contributed money from Point of Sale (POS) machine settlements which would not have been receipted.”
The senior cashier, according to the report, would get $25 from each cashier, pocketing $100 a shift. The tolling controller would also get $25 from each cashier every shift and he would control three toll gates at once.
Drivers and cleaners would get $5 and $3 respectively from each cashier.
In August, the Government increased toll fees and other traffic related fees, light motor vehicles now pay $10 from $2, mini buses $15 from $3, buses $20 from $4 heavy vehicles $25 from $5 and haulage trucks $50 from $10.
“However, following the fees increase, subscriptions were also increased with senior cashiers pocketing $300 per shift and the tolling controller getting at least $600 per shift,” reads the report.
The Shamva cashier (name withheld) who used an exempt diplomatic vehicle’s details on 46 occasions in a short space of time, ran out of luck when the system captured pictures and videos of the actual vehicles that passed.
In most occasions, the cashier would record details of the diplomatic vehicle yet a haulage truck would have passed, and then she would pocket the $50 per passage.
A similar case of abuse of exempt registration numbers was detected at Shurugwi tollgate, and the report was handed over to Zinara.
Allegations also arose that supervisors who have been trained to observe odd tolling transactions from the back office at every site seemed to be compromised in executing their duties.
The Herald visited the security company, Univern Enterprises, where the organisation’s chief executive officer Mr Phil Mushosho confirmed that the system picked anomalies and the rot at various toll gates.
He said various mechanisms are being put in place to plug loopholes.
“Our system is capable of picking up these anomalies. It can also report back information which can be used for auditing purposes.
“We are aware that these cashiers have been using various methods to pocket Zinara money. They were actually caught on camera,” he said.
Mr Mushoshe said there was need to ensure efficient back-up power supply for continuity even during power cuts to avoid manual operations, prone to abuse. The Herald