Transport minister under fire

Transport minister Joram Gumbo has come under fire from various stakeholders in the economy for failing to transform parastatals under his portfolio and develop critical infrastructure in the country.

Minister Rugare Gumbo

The Zanu PF legislator was appointed to the key ministry in September 2015, with the specific mandate of reviving Air Zimbabwe, National Railways of Zimbabwe, Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, Central Mechanical and Engineering Department among others and ensuring the country’s road infrastructure was up to scratch.

However, since his appointment almost two-and-half years ago, critics have questioned Gumbo’s probity to transform the country’s transport and infrastructure sub-sector, the latest one being the cancellation of a $1 billion tender awarded to Austrian firm, Geiger International, for the dualisation of the Harare-Beitbridge-Chirundu Highway .

Prominent lawyer Obert Gutu did not mince his words when describing Gumbo’s tenure as a Cabinet minister.

“Transport minister … Gumbo is my elder brother in the clan. He is otherwise a very affable character but he has dismally failed to competently run his government portfolio,” the former MDC spokesperson said.

“The Chirundu-Beitbridge highway dualisation project remains a pipe dream, more than 12 months after the ground-breaking ceremony that was conducted at Chaka Business Centre, Chirumanzu District, amid much pomp and ceremony in early March 2017.”

Construction work on the $1 billion Harare-Beitbridge-Chirundu Highway dualisation project — one of the government’s deliverables under the 100-day target set by President Emmerson Mnangagwa — was cancelled last week after Geiger failed to commence operations.

In February, Mnangagwa chided Gumbo for dragging his feet on the critical dualisation of Zimbabwe’s most important road, whose dilapidated state has caused “lots of deaths”.

“I would like to exhort the ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to expedite the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Chirundu Highway and many other road construction and rehabilitation projects throughout the country,” he said.

“Any impediments in this regard must be urgently resolved so that our people can enjoy the associated safety, convenience and efficiency of these essential public utilities.”

However, the highway has remained largely a narrow strip in many parts, with haulage trucks, buses and small vehicles struggling to move due to its bad state.

Consequently, lives continue to be lost on the road as vehicles side-swipe each other or overturn as they struggle for space.

Gutu noted that under Gumbo’s watch, the national airline — Air Zimbabwe — is now worse off than it was four years ago.

“Air Zimbabwe…is in a ramshackle state,” he quipped.

“Right now, the national airline is operating only two very old, noisy and dilapidated aircraft, a Boeing 737 jet and a Boeing 767 jet.

“And to think that minister Gumbo promised the nation that Air Zimbabwe will resume international flights to London, Gatwick, as well as China, Guangzhou, in the first half of 2018!” he said.

The Transport minister has also been blamed for failing to stop rampant corruption at Vehicles Inspection Department (VID) and the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara).

Gumbo last year commissioned an independent committee to look into the operations of the Zinara after a forensic audit by an international audit firm Grant Thornton unearthed a number of questionable business transactions prejudicial to the State.

The forensic audit report revealed gross mismanagement of financial resources through contractual obligations which were undertaken by Zinara, which are prejudicial to the organisation and government, overpayment of contractors, payments for substandard work undertaken by contractors and in some instances work which was not even done, as well as contractual terms and conditions that result in government projects being overpaid at the end of the tenure of concession periods.

Although the committee submitted its report to Gumbo almost a month ago, which revealed that Zinara was prejudiced over $119 million, but he is yet to act on the recommendations.

“Gumbo’s behaviour will undo what the president is trying to achieve through his “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra.

It will be difficult for investors to come to Zimbabwe when the infrastructure is in such dire straits,” said economist Francis Mukora. DailyNews