Southern African transport ministers have committed to re-evaluating their governments’ policies on exemption for railway operators from the fuel levy which is largely used to improve road infrastructure. Swaziland is the only country that has waived the levy on fuel used for locomotives. The issue of exemption was high on the agenda at the fifth annual Southern African Railway Association (Sara) conference held in Johannesburg last week with one highlevel delegate remarking to FTW that it was “encouraging to see progress on the issue and a greater understanding of the need to waive it”. At the first Sara conference, held in Pemba Mozambique in 2010‚ regional transport ministers agreed to exempt railway operators from paying a levy on the fuel used for locomotives. Rail operators argue that a large chunk of the fuel levy is used to improve road infrastructure‚ to the detriment of rail. “The case has been made – and largely accepted by the freight fraternity at large – for the modal shift, especially of bulk cargo, to rail. But it is also well known that rail development has been neglected for far too long and thus needs major investment to get it up to standard,” said Sara president, Dominic Ntwaagae.

During a ministerial panel discussion – where South Africa notably had no ministerial or government representation – transport ministers from Zambia, Botswana and Tanzania pointed out that they were currently driving policy with their governments to not only ensure a modal shift but to facilitate it. “And that includes looking at ways to raise money for funding and save on operational costs,” said Nelson Nyangu, director of transport in Zambia’s ministry of transport. Tshenolo Mabeo, minister of transport and communications for Botswana, agreed, adding: “Railways, once fully operational, play a major role in facilitating regional and national trade as they provide not only a safer but more affordable option. Policy makers need to look at this bigger picture and commit to the Pemba 2010 agreement.” Minister of public works and transport for Swaziland, Lindiwe Dlamini, said that Swaziland waived the fuel levy for rail operators over ten years ago, which assisted Swaziland Railway to maintain its infrastructure and stock.