By Nokuthaba Nkomo
Government is moving to engage Zimbabwean road construction firms in a major road expansion programme connecting Beitbridge and Chirundu amid indications the deal reached with Chinese firm Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Group Limited (Afecc) was running into problems.
This comes after government withdrew the tender awarded to an Austrian company Geiger International.
The project is aimed at adding more lanes to the 900km highway from Beitbridge on the border with South Africa to Chirundu on the Zambian border.
Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza last week told journalists they are still negotiating with constructors for the commencement of the project.
Early this year, Cabinet resolved to withdraw a tender that had initially been awarded to Austrian firm Geiger International for the dualisation of the road.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa said government had become impatient with lack of construction activity along the country’s busiest highway.
After Geiger’s removal, government is yet to conclude talks with Afecc, which was controversially stopped from mining diamonds in Chiadzwa two years ago.
“Government intends to conclude negotiations on this project as soon as possible. It is paramount to note that delays in these negotiations will prompt government to engage locally,” Matiza said in a press statement.
“I believe as a country, we can implement this project through our own resources and manpower.”
Noting that the Beitbridge-Chirundu road is important to the country as it is the economic artery, Matiza said the project will commence as early as possible.
“The Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu Road Dualisation Project, being part of the North-South Corridor, is key to regional development and trade facilitation.
“I have started engagement with various stakeholders including the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, CMED (Pvt) Ltd and Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara).
“In the meantime, as agreed in Cabinet, my ministry will maintain government’s terms of reference as published in the initial bidding process.
“These address our challenges and carry us forward, so it is critical at this juncture, that government continues to engage the private sector through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) for the development of such infrastructure.”
This comes as government has embarked on its most ambitious infrastructure investment programme ever, entailing construction of new roads, upgrading of some facilities and the rehabilitation of others.
Over $2 billion is being touted as having been budgeted for on road construction.
Local firms have missed out on lucrative contracts, scooping a meagre portion of the total value of awarded contracts with the rest going to foreign firms mainly from China.
One local contractor said they had the capacity to build the roads but blamed the government for raising their demands on firms during tendering of projects like requiring experience on big projects, which many lack, due to decades of under-investment in the sector.
In the past, some contractors gave the sector a bad name through project delays, shoddy work that frayed soon after completion and diversion of project funds.
Matiza said his ministry is committed to ensuring that the highway is resurfaced as CMED is currently working on a programme that is expected to make a massive contribution towards road rehabilitation.
“I am pleased to note that CMED (Pvt) Ltd is working on a programme which will see the entity procuring new equipment and rehabilitating some of the existing equipment for road construction,” he noted.
“This equipment will go a long way in capacitating the nation, particularly my ministry in carrying out its mandate of transport infrastructure and services provision,” he said.
The dilapidated highway, which is old, narrow and heavily infested with potholes, has been responsible for many fatal accidents over the years.
Matiza noted that government is constrained in the mobilisation of resources for road maintenance and construction and in a bid to make sure that all roads, particularly the major ones, are catered for — Zinara has established new toll gate locations some of which are now operational.
The minister urged motorists to contribute towards road rehabilitation through adhering to road user requirements which entail them to pay tolling fees.
“Government notes the actions of some citizens who have a tendency of by-passing tolling points. This has an impact on the rest of the abiding citizens,” he said.
“These are advised to desist from such actions and assist the government in the maintenance and construction of the nation’s road network. I urge us all to take pride in our nation and build it together.”
Plans to refurbish the Beitbridge-Chirundu highway have been on the table for nearly two decades before the government struck a deal with Geiger International in 2016.
After winning the contract, the Austrian contractor was seemingly delaying the dualisation process over “unconvincing” reasons, till government decided to terminate the contract.
Following the abortion of Geiger’s contract, government engaged Afecc, which came second in the bidding process won by Geiger. Daily News.