The never ending story of the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu road dualisation
By Dhlayani Chauke
A well-serviced road network is the pride and joy of every country in the present age. Roads are a vital cog to national economies; they are that convenient link between the countryside and the urban areas, the towns and cities, and also between neighbouring countries.
We need the roads for our day to day activities and we feel safer when the roads are well maintained and taken care of. Sadly many of our roads in Zimbabwe tell a poignant story – standing as indelectable reminders of friends and relatives who perished on them due to years of stinking neglect by the authorities.
One road that is in a sorry state and in urgent need of long overdue rehabilitation is the Beitbridge to Harare through to Chirundu road. The government must come clear on what exactly is going on with regards to the dualisation of that road.
The dualisation of the Beitbridge to Harare road as well as its extension from Harare to Chirundu border post is long overdue.
Way too many lives have been lost on the road in accidents that to a greater extent are attributable to the decrepit nature of the road in its present state. The condition of the road has been further aggravated by an ever burgeoning number of vehicular traffic that has clogged the roads – a development that I am sure would be arrested by the dualisation of the road.
In the light of the ever- increasing incidents of road carnage, it is disturbing to hear that the dualisation has been put on hold by an impending court case pitting the ZimHighway Consortium, a grouping of civil engineering companies the services of whom the government had enlisted for the project before making an about turn that saw the government through the Tender Board unceremoniously revoking the tenders that were first issued in 2002.
The move ensued in the Consortium seeking recourse in the courts.
There are so many questions that remain unanswered as the saga of the dualisation of the busy road unfolds. It seems as if there is actually more to the issue that what meets the eye. In February, the Herald, the impeccable government mouthpiece, reported that the dispute between the State Procurement Board (SPB) and the Zim Consortium had been resolved and the construction of the road would start immediately.
The paper quoted the Secretary for Transport and Infrastructural development Mr Munodaishe Munodawafa as saying that the last hurdle had been cleared and we all gleefully waited for the duplication of the road to commence soon.
Seven months down the line nothing has been done, the road is still chipped along the yellow lines and potholes riddle the centre of the road treacherously and still causing dangerous accidents in which lives are lost.
The frequency of accidents on the Beitbridge to Harare highway is a serious cause for concern; it is actually creating a situation that mimics a national disaster. Such a disaster requires urgent government attention under normal circumstances.
It is in the light of this crisis that it is shocking to note how tardy the government has been in ensuring that the dualisation of the carriageway becomes a reality. The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural development must come out clear and tell the nation what really is stalling the project, and why it does not seem that the Ministry is concerned by the many deaths occurring on the road every day.
The Secretary for Transport and Infrastructural development as reported by the Herald pointed out in early February that the court case had been finalised and there were no pending lawsuits against the SPB and the Ministry. He told us that dualisation would resume soon. By ‘soon’ we expected it to resume within a month or two.
It is quite confusing to hear the deputy Minister Petronella Kagonye now disputing what the secretary said seven months ago, taking us all aback by alleging that the court case is not over and it is the reason why the project has not been implemented to this date. Both statements cannot be true.
One official is clearly lying and it is most likely that they are deliberately doing so. Why should senior government officials blatantly lie to the nation on public fora? It is on such issues that the opposition and the taxpayers in general should take the government to task and demand accountability from people that are sleeping on the job and then going on to lie to the whole country.
The feasibility study of the project was done and completed in June 2013, and the Development Bank of Southern Africa and African Development Bank expressed interest in financing the project. A gesture such as that one by big institutions should have been speedily exploited by a government that has got the interests of its people at heart.
With some contractors having shown great interest in doing the project on a build-to -operate and then transfer contract the government must not drag its feet in awarding the tender to companies that have the capacity to do the project, even if they are companies from elsewhere in the region. They can still rope in local companies as sub-contractors.
If the cancellation of the tenders of the Zim Highways Consortium was done above board why should it be difficult to have the cases presided over and get done with so that new contractors are given the mandate to start rehabilitating the roads and save many lives that are currently perishing on the road.
There are matters that the ministry must have muddled over which the public are not aware of and the ministry is trying too hard to conceal from us. It does not make sense that time in excess of a full year had to pass before the project is implemented.
Being the busiest road in the country, the road also rakes in millions of USD in toll gate takings. ZINARA should also avail some such monies so they can also be used, in between times to patch up the pot holes on the road and the chipped edges. In its present state there is no evidence that the road has received any meaningful attention in recent times.
Our government must get its priorities right and identify areas that need urgent funding and channel more funds towards such areas. Surely the accidents that are frequently happening on the road are no small matter, there is need to move with speed and curb road carnage which is aggravated by narrow and neglected roads.
Dualisation of that road will go a long way in saving lives. Dualising the road will also improve the public transport system in the country and add to an efficient road network.