By Leonard Ncube
National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) board chair, Advocate Martin Dinha, says the country’s economic revival efforts will not be a success without a functioning railway transport system.
At a time when efforts to revive the ailing NRZ are underway amid delays in concluding a $400 million recapitalisation deal, Adv Dinha said a weak railway service will be a letdown in the broader economic value chain.
In 2017, NRZ signed a US$400 million deal with the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG)/ Transnet Consortium aimed at revamping operations and rehabilitating the parastatal’s infrastructure.
The company recently engaged Government seeking the retirement of a US$500 million legacy debt to enable it to attract investors and promote the turnaround initiative.
Adv Dinha believes this deal is crucial to the parastatal’s recovery and needs to be expedited to breathe life into the economy.
“The story of NRZ is as bad as that of any other parastatal as it faces decline and corruption. My mandate as the new chair of the NRZ board is to turnaround the fortunes of the company and make sure it returns back to its old self,” he said.
“I am looking forward to a situation whereby the tendered amount is made available for the betterment of NRZ. NRZ is a growing concern because it is the backbone of Bulawayo industry as much as it is for the whole country. It’s a strategic entity for Zimbabwe and we can only meet vision 2030 if we have a functional NRZ.”
The parastatal needs $400 million for a complete overhaul of passenger and rolling stock capacity in the short to medium term. NRZ used to move rolling stock of about 18 million tonnes at its peak in the 1980s employing about 20 000 workers while contributing immensely to the national fiscus.
Adv Dinha said this has fallen down to single digit tonnage while the workforce is now less than 4 000 due to retrenchments and redundancy, with a less than one percent contribution to fiscus. He said this spells doom for the parastatal, which also owes 17 months’ salary arrears to its workers.
“We are now paying every month but owe workers 17 months of their salaries. NRZ has been on a constant decline every year and that’s a reflection that we are not growing as an economy,” lamented Adv Dinha.
He said Zimbabwe was strategically positioned as an economic hub for Sadc hence it has every reason to revitalise its railway system.
“We don’t have rolling stock, fleet is depleted while equipment is obsolete, stolen and vandalised. The rail is bad and passengers are delayed, which is bad for business. We are going through a recapitalisation programme but we can’t raise finance because of many factors and the country being a risk,” said Adv Dinha.
He said the Bulawayo workshop has no capacity and the company can’t retool because of sanctions.
“We need consistency in policy and a favourable business environment,” said Adv Dinha. “The DIDG deal has been extended for six months after which the consortium must have proved they have the capacity. The shareholder has said let’s see your bank balance because it’s been more than three years now. We don’t want to be pessimistic but we hope the deal doesn’t fail because NRZ is key to the country’s economic revival.”
He also called for the banning of haulage trucks from moving heavy loads saying despite causing accidents and damaging roads, heavy vehicles only pay US$25 tolling fees, which is not enough to maintain infrastructure.
Adv Dinha also called for a review of the Railway Act saying there should be a separation of the railway company, which does both business and maintenance of the railway line. Ideally, he said, separation of roles will bring in the private sector as is the case in other countries. The Chronicle