Old Mutual engages Biti over Beitbridge border project

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Old Mutual has approached Finance minister Tendai Biti in an effort to resolve an impasse over the $97 million Beitbridge border post project, on which construction was due to start several months ago, Old Mutual’s infrastructure and development impact funds head Jurie Swart said last week.

The post is among the busiest in Africa.

Swart said the final closure of the project — equity-funded by Old Mutual and debt-funded by Standard Bank — had been withheld by the Zimbabwean government, which was “discontented with the late start”.

Initial speculation blamed squabbles in the unity government for delays.

Swart said the project was delayed due to the complexity of its multi-disciplinary nature and need to adjust the designs from those specified in the concession agreement to meet additional special requirements, including those of the different organs of the Zimbabwean government.

“The funds for the project have been available for more than three months and the project could proceed at short notice. However, this can only be done if there is the political will of the government of Zimbabwe and the Minister of finance (Tendai Biti) to proceed as planned,” Swart said.

“Due to the immense efforts made to date and the significant funds already invested in the project, Old Mutual has approached the minister of Finance with the hope of finding resolution to the current impasse.”

The upgrade would see traffic diverted into three streams — one each for light vehicles, pedestrians and buses and trucks — old buildings razed and a new one erected, 5km of road laid and 250 free-standing houses built for staff.

Standard Bank spokesman Eric Larsen said the bank had had no formal confirmation the deal was off.

It believed it was still awaiting final approval from the Zimbabwean government.

Minister Biti early this month accused a private South African company contracted to expand the border post of failing to complete the job depriving the government of nearly 40% in potential customs revenue inflows.

Biti told NewsDay the government contracted a South African infrastructure company to modernise the border post, revamp its technology and decentralise clearing systems to curb corruption by Zimbabwe Revenue Authority officials.

“We contracted them to basically build a new port and that company basically wasted our time, we have to do the process all over again. They spent 13 months on the job doing nothing,” Biti said.

“The infrastructure was designed to deal with small volumes of traffic between Zimbabwe and South Africa, but it is now the port of sub-Saharan Africa, it is our biggest port.

“Infrastructure has to be modernised to cater for this and recognise that this is an African port. We therefore have to put another bridge and expand the port,” said Biti.