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Geiger at risk of contempt over highway

Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo exchange Beitbridge Road construction documents with Geiger International
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo exchange Beitbridge Road construction documents with Geiger International

Dexter Nduna said the Geiger officials needed to explain themselves to MPs after failing to commence work to upgrade and add more lanes to the 900km highway from Beitbridge on the border with South Africa to Chirundu on the Zambian border.

Government signed a 25-year long $3 billion build-operate-transfer deal for the construction of the highway; one of southern Africa’s busiest highways.

The deal was signed between government and a contractor, Chinese firm China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd, with Geiger as the financier.

Nduna expressed fury that Geiger has failed to appear before the parliamentary portfolio committee on Transport and Infrastructure on Monday. He warned Geiger it faced the possibility of a contempt motion.

“They did not appear before the committee. We have asked the clerk of Parliament (Kennedy Chokuda) to interrogate why they did not appear today because our next step was going to put together Standing Rules and Orders section 25 which mandates that everybody is accountable to Parliament in particular the committee on Transport and Infrastructure,” Nduna said.

“We are of the opinion that Geiger is supposed to have written to Parliament to give reasons why they have not appeared. If they don’t put it into writing, we will be left with no option but to invoke those sections and charge them with contempt of Parliament.”

The deal is being touted as one of the country’s biggest road projects since independence 37 years ago. Government has granted national project status to the highway dualisation project following months of protracted negotiations.

The dispensation, approved last month, paves way for the project’s financier, Geiger, to start moving equipment into the country duty free. But work is yet to start amid reports the firm is stil undertaking surveying.

“The Beitbridge-Chirunndu highway is a very key conduit to the county’s economic development,” Nduna said.

“We have come today at the expense of innocent tax payers. If I have to give you expenses that Parliament goes through if there is no-show like this, the magnitude is far bigger. We have also heard that they are going to put in writing the reason why did they do not appear but the little information we heard from the clerk is … Mashanda, who is the (Geiger) country representative, is currently in Hong Kong and is coming back on the 10th (of December).”

Nduna said they have made a resolution to give them another chance.

“If they fail, it will be a done deal, we are going to charge them with contempt of Parliament. The ground breaking ceremony was done long back and we are not seeing any action.”

In May, former President Robert Mugabe officiated at a ground-breaking ceremony for the road, but construction work is yet to kick off due to bureaucratic issues.

The road, which has now been reduced by the elements into a narrow, deadly strip riddled with potholes and sharp edges that claim hundreds of lives every year, is part of the North-South Corridor that directly links landlocked Zimbabwe and Zambia with access to the Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richards Bay in South Africa, making it the country’s most important commercial connection. DailyNews