Comment: Unbundle NRZ urgently

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It seems the problems dogging Air Zimbabwe have literally been transferred to the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ).

This follows a potentially crippling industrial action by the bulk of NRZ employees on Tuesday complaining over violation of the collective bargaining agreements – including salary payment delays and outstanding allowances.

This has become a familiar trend with most State-run enterprises.

Just like the national carrier, the performance of NRZ continues to be hamstrung by inadequate funding for maintenance and rehabilitation of the rail track infrastructure, rolling stock, overhead power lines, signalling and telecommunication systems.

Government in the current National Budget set aside $15 million to support routine maintenance and some rehabilitation programmes, but as Finance minister Tendai Biti said, NRZ infrastructure rehabilitation and maintenance far exceed budgetary capacity.

There is no doubt that Air Zimbabwe and NRZ have over the years been abused left, right and centre for political expedience and for the benefit of a few individuals much to the detriment of the economic recovery of the country.

One would agree with Biti that successful turnaround of NRZ can only be realised through partnership arrangements between government and the private sector.

This can happen through the proposed unbundling of the entity into two or more companies.

According to the proposed plan, NRZ will remain in charge of rail track and signalling infrastructure while a public-private partnership could be formed to support new investment in appropriate carriage coaches, locomotives and wagons for freight, inter-city and commuter train services.

By so doing, this would create a win-win situation for both government and the private sector as it would result in a well-maintained rail track system and the development of an efficient rail transport system that moves goods and services on time and at commercially viable tariffs.

The opening-up of the country’s rail sector to private players will not only ease the burden on NRZ, but the taxpayer in general whose efforts have gone down the drain over the years trying to shore up collapsing State enterprises due to bad corporate governance.

Rail transport is a great option when transporting goods around not only locally, but in Southern Africa as a region.

That is why efficient performance is so critical. With a well-developed rail network, with destination stops all over the country, rail transport is one of the most logistically viable transportation modes.

The transport sector in general has been highlighted by government as a key contributor to Zimbabwe’s competitiveness in global markets.

It is increasingly being seen as a crucial engine for economic growth and social development.

The revival of rail infrastructure is pivotal to the country’s economic turnaround as investors require such infrastructure if they are to pump money into the economy.

Zimbabwe cannot afford to have a struggling NRZ. It is in the best interest of all citizens that the powers-that-be get the rail company working again.