While the outcry over Harare City Parking’s fines continues to grow and a Government investigation has opened, a motorist is trying to get the High Court to rule that Harare City Council has no legal right to charge US$132 clamping fees for non-payment of parking fees.
However, Harare Mayor Cllr Jacob Mafume yesterday stuck to his guns over the fines, the highest in the region.
The council which is experiencing liquidity crunch is being accused of turning motorists into its “cash cow” to replenish its drying coffers, using parking charges, and especially fines as a major source of income.
Mr Reason Mupanga of Seke has approached the High Court for an order to declaring as unlawful, the practice of impounding motor vehicles by the municipal police over alleged violation of city traffic by-laws.
In his application at the High Court, Mr Mupanga argues that the practice by the city to force motorists to pay fines amounted to extortion.
He wants a review of the form of notice issued by the city of Harare in terms of the Municipal Traffic Laws Enforcement Act and Harare (Clamping and Tow-Away) By-Laws, Statutory Instrument 104 of 2005; and the practice of impounding a motor vehicle in order to force the owner to pay a penalty.
“The form of notice . . . does not comply with the Municipal Traffic Laws Enforcement Act [Chapter 29:10],” he argues.
“Furthermore, the practice of impounding a motor vehicle in order to force the owner to pay a penalty amounts to extortion and it is unlawful.”
Mr Mupanga saw his car impounded earlier this year when he had not committed any offence and only got it back after paying a fine of US$68.
The vehicle was seized after the motorist had allegedly refused to pay a bribe. This is the second time council has been dragged to court over parking charges.
In November last year, a Harare lawyer Mr James Majatame sued City Parking Company and Harare City Council over the calculation of parking fees in one-hour blocks regardless of whether the motorist is parking for less time.
He alleged violation of consumer rights to choose services of preferred choice without any undue influence from the local authority.
The on-street parking fee in Harare is US$1 an hour, or part of an hour, or the local currency equivalent at the prevailing interbank rate. Non-payment can lead to clamping.
Mr Majatame, a senior partner at James Majatame Attorneys at Law, in his lawsuit is arguing that the $700 per hour is in direct violation of motorist rights since City Parking demands this even if a motorist parks a vehicle for just 10 minutes, and demands a full payment of a whole extra hour if the motorist is just a few minutes over the full hours paid for.
The lawyer is seeking an order declaring the calculation of parking fees in one-hour blocks to be unconstitutional and ordering City Parking to provide more options to their parking services. He wants steps of 15 minutes, 30 minutes and 60 minutes.
The lawsuit arose when Mr Majatame parked his vehicle along Nelson Mandela Avenue near the intersection with Patrice Lumumba Street.
He was approached by City Parking marshal Liason Meke who demanded that the lawyer should pay for parking.
The lawyer complied and indicated that he would park his car for a period of 30 minutes since he was not going to take long.
But the parking marshal said the marshals were not allowed to bill for any period less than one hour, stressing that the position is absolute and that’s the “law” as directed by his employer.
In his application, Mr Majatame argues that billing in one-hour blocks is not in terms of the law and now wants the option to pay for half an hour to be considered alongside the option to pay for one hour.
Despite his protest, the parking marshal went on to bill him $700 for one hour and he was left with no option, but to pay, begrudgingly, to avoid having his car clamped.
The State law, however, prohibits service providers from using physical force, coercion, undue influence, duress, harassment or unfair tactics against consumers in sale of their services and in this case, Mr Majatame argues that what the parking services providers are doing is in contrast with the requirements of the law.
“Against this background of consumer rights violation, the mandatory one-hour parking fee is tainted with illegality from the onset and this goes to the root of the contractual agreement between me, the consumer of the parking services and service providers which in this case are the respondents and ultimately it renders it void ab initio (from the onset),” he said.
“It is my firm belief that City Parking has no right to act in the manner it did.
“The conduct of the respondents is appalling, extortionist and self-enriching, and I call upon the court to retain order in the market place.”
Mr Majatame further argues that if not stopped by the court, the City Parking company will continue to have one hour as their standard minimum parking fee to his detriment and many other motorists.
To this end, the lawyer says there is a reasonable chance that the “deceitful and self-enriching” conduct of
the respondents in this regard could result in him being forced to pay for a service that he will not consume to the fullest. The matter is still pending in court.
Mayor Mafume yesterday addressed a media briefing and said the US$132 penalty would remain in place.
Harare charges US$1 for an hour-long parking disc although CBD parking is free in Johannesburg and Gaborone and Lusaka charges just K300, approximately US$15, as the penalty for the sort of problem where Harare wants US$132.
City Parking and council staffers who confided in The Herald said each member of the enforcement team, who are responsible for clamping cars which would have parking infractions, has a daily clamping target of 10 cars.
This target means that each clamping official is expected to rake in at least US$1 320 a day. City Parking is a business unit of the City Council which is responsible for parking services in the city.
Its cashiers or parking marshals reportedly have their own targets which, according to our sources, is $100 000 a day.
“It has come to my attention that the enforcement regime we have adopted has caused anguish, inconvenience and sometimes regrettable incidents,” said Mayor Cllr Mafume.
“The US$132 includes the fine itself, the clamping charge, unclamping charge and then VAT but we removed the tour away charge so we were left with a cumulative charge of US$132.
“The primary fine itself is $50 in terms of the offence that one would have committed, these are contained in the budget and in the bylaws that we have. So these bylaws have been in existence for quite some time.
“We have asked City Parking and our officers to give a grace period. They have suggested a grace period of 10 minutes after the ticket has expired. I will strongly persuade them to make it 20 minutes after the ticket has expired.
“We will make sure that whoever we delegate will conduct themselves in a manner that is respectful.
“It is not a fundraising issue. What we have is a congested CBD,” said Mayor Cllr Mafume.
With the heavy hand enforcement of the disproportionate fines having begun in the year of a general election, residents contend that this is a ploy to finance the CCC political activities.
CCC is the party that runs Harare City Council with the majority of the capital’s councillors aligned to the beleaguered opposition outfit.
With Mayor Mafume digging in and refusing to budge to residents’ outcry, hope now lies with the Central Government which has instituted a process to investigate the matter.
Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo earlier in the week appointed an investigation team chaired by Mr Ronald Chimowa.
Zanu PF has also expressed grave concern on the matter pointing out instances when the City Parking officials have gone to the extent of getting into scuffles with motorists.
“There have almost been skirmishes between motorists and the parking officials,” Zanu PF Politburo member Cde Supa Mandiwanzira told the media yesterday.
“We do not believe that this is the best way to treat your citizens, to treat your motorists. I believe that the local authority has devised a way to raise money but if you want to raise money do not abuse the motorist. If you want to raise money charge a reasonable fee . . . and allow people to pay somewhere and employ people who can be paid money by those who are parking.
“The current situation is that you have more people who are clamping vehicles than people who are ready to receive the US$2 which gives the impression that the local authority is out to get more money from the motorist by charging US$132 as a penalty for being clamped.
“But nowhere in the world do you get penalised US$132 for an infraction of US$2, it’s unbelievable, so it is clearly a scheme and that scheme is unacceptable to us because it is harassing motorists, it is harassing residents of Harare and we call upon the Mayor and his CCC authorities in the council to make sure that people are not harassed,” said Cde Mandiwanzira.
Businessman Nigel Chanakira slammed the council on his twitter handle for charging fines disproportionate to the parking offence.
Posting on Twitter, Mr Chanakira said he was asked to pay US$130 when his car was clamped after he failed to pay parking due to the absence of parking marshals.
“Clamped in Harare while in a meeting after I failed to see the parking attendant and pay. I was stuck for a solid two hours sorting this out. City Parking asked for US$130. The fine is totally disproportionate to the offence. I’m perplexed that we can have such unjust city bylaws,” he said.