Road rehabilitation adds shine to development portfolio

Source: Road rehabilitation adds shine to development portfolio | Herald (Opinion)

Ruth Butaumocho

African Agenda

Back in the early 1980s, the phrase “Masvingo necarpet”, was a euphemism
commonly used in reference to the tarred and well maintained
Harare-Masvingo highway, where motorists would cruise with ease, courtesy
of  a smooth and flawless tarred road.

The road gave credence to the pride that made the people of Masvingo walk
tall, shoulders high up, while the rest of who not hailing from that
province greened with envy.  What with the Masvingo people’s sleek tongue
and high pitched tempo?

Being the nerve centre of Zimbabwe’s commercial road transport, the
highway was a marvel for many road users.

It was because of its clean bill from motorists that yesteryear crooner
Jonah Moyo ended up penning a celebratory song titled “Masvingo Necarpet”
in which he proudly declared that the highway made it easier to see his
loved ones without any hassles.

Years later, the Harare-Masvingo highway, was to lose its lustre and
grandeur owing to over use and lack of maintenance.

The once revered highway, became a perfect theatre of frustration,
accidents and deaths in years that were to follow.

Hardly a month would pass before the country recorded a fatal accident in
the highway that was now characterised by deep potholes, receding verges
and shoulders.

However, the highway is now on the mend, following the New Dispensation’s
decision to prioritise road infrastructure in its economic development
trajectory.

Rehabilitation of roads is not only being done in the major highways, but
in all road networks across the country.

Under the Harare-Beitbridge project, the Government is transforming the
nearly 600km trunk road into a world-class highway that will be key in
helping the continent achieve its progressive integration efforts under
the African Continental Free Trade Area.

The highway rehabilitation is one of the major programmes the new
political has undertaken to  as part of its many and varied economic
projects critical towards the attainment of Vision 2030 of an upper middle
income economy, since infrastructure development is key in economic
growth.

Giving an update on the state of Zimbabwe’s key projects during the
presentation of the mid-term fiscal policy review last Thursday, Finance
Minister Mthuli Ncube said about half of the $10,7 billion had been
deployed to the Harare-Masvingo-Beitbridge Highway, the biggest of ongoing
road rehabilitation projects.

Resources have also been allocated to other road rehabilitation
programmes, as the Government moves with speed in infrastructure
development to complement ongoing economic projects, which have already
set tone for a positive economic growth.

The beauty about the ongoing road infrastructure is that once it is fully
rehabilitated, Zimbabwe should begin to see an economic boon as a result
of the North-South transport corridor, which most transporters from
neighbouring countries prefer to use for its convenience.

By its location, Zimbabwe is strategically located in the region and most
transporters prefer to use the Beitbridge route which remains shorter
compared to other routes.

Low crime rate is also another factor that have often given Zimbabwe a
competitive edge against other neighbouring countries. Because of the
short distance, Zimbabwe has become a preferred transit route of choice
for transporters from the region.

With the improved road network, there is no reason why Zimbabwe should not
get the bulk of business in the region, which had been reduced, because of
the continued deterioration of the road network, hence the Government’s
decision to pour money in its rehabilitation as a matter of urgency.

Outside the country’s efforts to ensure accessibility of all the towns to
improve movement among locals, the ongoing road infrastructure project
also falls into the basket of a regional business opportunity that was
created following the operationalisation of the African Continental Free
Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Already operational, the grand platform now allows Africans to trade among
themselves, explore existing opportunities, review challenges and be able
to fine-tune theirown trading platform without outside interference.

And true to the aspirations of the agreement, other countries are already
seeing the benefits of this grand platform, where some countries such as
Ghana have begun to trade, generating substantial economic benefits for
countries that are endowed with various natural resources.

In light of the existing synergies, the need for greater road
infrastructure could not have come at a better time.

The need for such an investment is timely and clear; It is serving both
the local and regional interests equally, which now need to sustainably
manage such investments, because of their common interests and the term
goal of having a good road network.

For a country that for long had to endure the bane of bad road networks,
losing business in the process, the ongoing road rehabilitation programme,
is one of the country’s milestone achievements that should be attributed
to an epitome of the Government’s pragmatic and visionary solutions the
country needs to move forward.

However, the Zimbabwean Government’s success in road infrastructure
provision will be measured not by the quantum of funds invested, but on
how road infrastructure will contribute to the achievement of the
country’s economic, social and environmental objectives.

More importantly, for the road infrastructure investment to be effective,
it should be complemented with robust and progressive measures that
supports the vision.

Once the infrastructure is fully functional, there should also be funds
set aside for regular rehabilitation. The reason why the country’s roads
overran their life shelf was because no plan and resources allocated to
maintainance.

Good road infrastructure would also need to be supported by competitive
toll fees, efficient toll gates, and investing in rest-stops for the long
distance and other  travellers.

Current existing challenges at some toll gates such as long winding queues
of motorists waiting to be served, slow processing of swipe machines and
too often the rude attendants would also need to be addressed.

Whilst the Government can do so much, the private sector should also play
a pivotal part in capital projects through availing funds, under different
packages.

Governments worldwide have increasingly turned to the private sector for
additional  resources,  increased  efficiency  and  sustainable
development  in  many  fields,  including  that of  transport
infrastructure and services.

Following trends in other fields, private sector involvement in the
transport sector is now common in many regions, including the in the
Asia-Pacific and even the SADC region where several countries have
partnered the private sector in road infrastructure development.

The partnerships can either be under the Build, Operate, Transfer concept
or selling of shares and even grants, which are redeemable later.

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