BY GARIKAI MAFIRAKUREVA
THE rehabilitation of the $26 million 47km Mhandamabwe-Chivi Road is now in limbo after the company contracted by the government to carry out the work abandoned it at the beginning of September alleging non-payment.
The road links the Masvingo-Beitbridge and Masvingo-Mbalabala Highways.
The rehabilitation was expected to cost $26 million at the time the government and Bitumen World Construction signed the deal at an exchange rate of US$1:$1 in 2017.
However, the Zimbabwean dollar has been eroded by the runaway inflation since then, leading to the government failing to pay the company at the prevailing interbank market rate, forcing it to abandon work at the 27,8km peg.
Chivi Rural District Council chairperson Godfrey Mukungunugwa confirmed the development, but was quick to say payment was later made and the company will soon resume work.
“Yes, I can confirm that the company has shelved the construction of the Mhandamabwe-Chivi Highway due to non-payment, but I am told payment has been made and they are expected to start work soon. I am not so sure when they are going to start, but I am sure it will be soon,” Mukungunugwa said.
“Some of their workers stay in our houses at Chivi Growth Point and their equipment is still on site, so they will definitely start work very soon.”
Masvingo Provincial Affairs minister Ezra Chadzamira, who officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony of the project, also confirmed that the company had downed tools over non-payment.
“Yes, I can confirm that the rehabilitation of the highway that was in the state of disrepair has been stopped for a while now. It is because the company is not happy with the non-payment of their dues, but I am told they have since been paid their money and they are going to start work soon. The last time I talked to them they said they are going to start again at the end of the month,” Chadzamira said.
“Work on that highway cannot be abandoned because it is expected to be the lifeblood of commerce in the drought-prone northern Chivi district and its poor state was affecting business activity in the area.”
Bitumen World Construction has already removed heavy-duty equipment from the site.
Efforts to get a comment from the company’s managing director Andre Zietsman proved fruitless, but a visit on its website, the information on the Mhandamabwe-Chivi project as at October 18, 2019 read thus: 27km open to traffic, 27,8km cement stabilised, 32,3km gravel dumping 27,8km primed, 27,8km double seal completed, 7,6km detour in operation water bowser and security only on site at present.”
Contacted for a comment, Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza said: “Phone me after 45 minutes, I am driving right now.”
When further contacted he only sent a message, saying: “I can’t talk right now.” Later his mobile went unanswered.