THE Harare-Beitbridge Road has since about a decade ago become a death trap for motorists. Hundreds of lives have been lost in road traffic accidents and many more people permanently maimed. Above all millions of dollars’ worth of business opportunities have been lost.
Report by Bernard Mpofu
Experts say head-on collisions have cost lots of lives along the country’s busiest highway linking Zimbabwe to its major trading partner South Africa.
For many years, the road has remained bumpy, narrow and the most dangerous in the country despite generating the highest toll fees.
It came as a huge relief to many Zimbabweans when the government announced that work on the highway would soon begin in an effort to reduce the carnage and improve accessibility between Harare and Pretoria.
ZimHighways, a consortium of local civil engineering firms and a local financial advisor, won the tender to work on the dualisation project. Independent figures show that Zimbabwe needs $2 billion to maintain and rehabilitate all national roads.
Unlike most other mega projects that have suffered still births due to funding constraints, documents NewsDay has in possession, show that this particular multi-million dollar project had secured funding from the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA).
But several years down the line, the government has developed “jelly feet” and flatly refused to support the local contractors, putting the project in disarray.
As a result, thousands of jobs are on the line, as hopes of reviving the construction industry which suffered 10 years of inactivity during the country’s unprecedented economic meltdown continue to fade away.
The delays in expediting the multi-million dollar roadworks project have also resulted in investor fatigue.
Latest figures show that the DBSA has to date disbursed over a quarter of the $206 million required to rehabilitate a major road artery spanning 801km from Plumtree through Harare to Mutare.
What made this situation untenable was the hiring of a South Africa-based engineering firm Group Five International to construct the road in place of local construction outfits.
In fact, this has raised many questions than answers on the government’s confidence in the local construction sector.
Doesn’t this reflect the government’s insincerity to public-private sector partnerships?
Ironically, Finance minister Tendai Biti has been fighting Kuchi builders over delays in constructing a bridge along the Harare-Bulawayo Road.
Reports show that Nembe Investments of South Africa, which has the support of China DBSA, is willing to inject over $600 million into the project.
The delay, according to reports, has resulted in the government employing a divide-and-rule tactic to weaken local consortiums before the project resumes.
ZimHighways, in a recent correspondence to the government, said: “The negative sentiment from a section of the government led to our financiers asking for a refreshed letter of comfort from the Ministry of Transport and Communication.
“In the meantime, we had received letters of undertaking from financiers and also had several meetings with them.
“Financiers asked us to submit application for grant funding to be used for the project preparation stage. We made progress until we got to a stage where we must sign mandate letter for the investment funding with our financiers. This letter has to be submitted to these ministries (Investment Promotion and Transport). It is at this stage that everything started going wrong.”
NewsDay asked DBSA’s position over the matter, but the bank had by yesterday not responded to questions sent on Monday.
However, although no comment could be obtained from the government yesterday, documents shown to NewsDay showed that Transport minister Nicholas Goche and his then Investment Promotion counterpart Elton Mangoma had in 2010 asked the DBSA to bypass ZimHighways and deal directly with the government, a development that could have resulted in bureaucratic inertia.
The two government ministries, according to documents, were successful in getting DBSA to sign with them although this was tied to government commitment in engaging ZimHighways.
“However, at our insistence, DBSA advised these ministries that they must resolve our role in the project before any funding can be released. Subsequently we got several letters from Ministry of Transport purporting that the government had secured sovereign debt.
This clearly was incorrect because DBSA advised us that they are not doing sovereign lending rather project lending,” ZimHighways said.
Frustrated by the bureaucratic bungling, ZimHighways reportedly appealed to the government to revise the tender award to a design- and-construct type.
But, in an apparent U-turn, the government seems to have widened the scope of the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Harare Road to include completion of the Harare Ring Road and the dualisation of the Harare-Chirundu Highway.
In a letter to former Transport secretary Patson Mbiriri, ZimHighways said: “It is and always has been our view that this is a (Harare-Beitbridge) project of national interest and to this end, it is upon this basis that we are writing to you this time around. We would like to proceed with the restructuring of the original project concept and tender resulting in our consortium company playing a design-and- construct role.”