The GOVERNMENT is on a drive to modernise the country’s infrastructure. Currently, the country’s road infrastructure, airports and rail system are being rehabilitated under different programmes that are envisaged to stimulate economic development. Our reporter, Debra Matabvu, spoke to Transport and Infrastructural Development secretary Engineer Theodius Chinyanga on some of the projects being undertaken by the Government.
DM: NRZ recently signed an MoU with Yapi Merkezi, a Turkish company, to rehabilitate and modernise the country’s railway infrastructure. Can you outline what the agreement entails?
TC: Basically it is a Memorandum of Understanding, the basis upon which National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and the Turkish company will collaborate.
It allows the Turkish company to scope on the needs submitted by NRZ, propose solutions, come up with the costing and also raise funding for them.
The Turkish entity sent in a delegation about a fortnight ago, they made presentations on their capabilities, the kind of support they have from the Turkish government and they invited the Government to visit some of the countries where they are undertaking projects.
The invitation has been accepted. We are now waiting to finalise the dates and the relaxation of Covid-19 protocols in countries that we intend to visit. Therefore, at this point in time, it is a scoping mission.
They will be looking at the tracks, signalling, locomotives, workshops, and any other ancillaries that NRZ intends to rehabilitate, specifically the main railway corridors.
So currently, the scoping mission delegation is in the country and within a fortnight they will be through.
There is a three-member mission which they might want to boost with other members, maybe from the financial and rail technical services.
That is up to them, but we have emphasised on urgency.
DM: The NRZ recently introduced commuter trains in Harare and Bulawayo. Does the Yapi deal include the construction of urban light rail?
TC: The first phase of this deal is focusing on existing infrastructure and not new infrastructure. The company also has capabilities in the rehabilitation of passenger coaches.
So light rail will be considered but will be included on existing infrastructure.
No new infrastructure is envisioned under this arrangement. The first phase focuses on capacitation and recapitalisation of NRZ in terms of equipment, rail tracks, locomotives and wagons. This phase will also involve the scoping mission. The second phase will involve discussions. There are needs that the NRZ already know of. So after the scoping mission, there will be a marrying of what Yapi would have found on its mission and what NRZ already knows.
Once an agreement is struck on the totality of the scope, then there will be financial discussions and once those are signed off, it means we will be entering the actual implementation.
DM: What does this new arrangement with Yapi mean for the previous arrangement with the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG)?
A: The DIDG/Transnet arrangement was cancelled.
We did not have a DIDG deal. We had a DIDG/Transnet arrangement and that needs to be understood and it was cancelled.
If ever there is going to be another arrangement with them, that has to come through Cabinet. As far as we are concerned as a Ministry, we adhered to the decision to cancel the arrangement and instructed NRZ to go back on the market to seek investors.
If DIDG approach us again, we have nothing against them, but this will be a new procurement process and not based on the cancelled arrangement.
DM: How much ground has been covered in clearing Air Zimbabwe’s debts and recapitalisation?
TC: The administrator did his job.
We are in the process of paying off all the creditors. All the local creditors have been paid off. We still have three years to pay off our foreign creditors and these are owed more than US$100 000 individually.
All foreign creditors who were owed less than US$100 000 have been paid off.
There are some unproven debt claims which we are holding. According to the rules, there has to be proof of debt.
The next phase under the plan is that we need to equip Air Zimbabwe. We have equipment that we cannot deploy. That includes our 777 Boeing, which is long-haul plane. We cannot deploy them for short distances, that will be a waste of money.
Currently, they are under maintenance preservation.
The Embraer is suited for our regional routes, so the plan is to get two more Embraer in order to beef our small aircraft business. This will enable us to increase our routes. In addition, in terms of planning ahead, you need small aircraft to go and pick passengers when passengers volumes are low.
So, our focus right now is to purchase two more Embraer planes.
Unfortunately, the pricing of these Embraer has been going up because most airlines are opting to use smaller planes.
In Europe, they are harnessing the Embraer because it is cheap and affordable for their citizens.
We are confident that we will get there.
We have already put in place the finances and then we will follow a procurement process once a seller is identified.
DM: We understand work at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport has been progressing smoothly. Are there any plans to also expand the Joshua Mqabuko Airport in Bulawayo?
TC: As projected, the capacity at Joshua Nkomo Airport has not even been reached so currently, we see no need to expand the airport. But what we are doing is, there is a requirement for a control tower installation and improving water supply at the airport.
So those are some of the issues we are working on.
DM: We understand the Government is upgrading small airstrips and airports across the country especially in tourist destination areas such as Kariba. How far have you gone with the exercise?
TC: For Kariba, a decision has already been made to construct a new airport because the current one is too close to power pylons.
The site of the new airport has already been identified and the airport company has already been instructed to find an investor to put up a new airport that can land large birds.
There is also Buffalo Range, which again lands light aircraft, the intention is to improve the runway and improve the buildings.
We are also in the market trying to attract investors in that regard.
However, these efforts have been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As you might know, the aviation business is piggy-banked on passengers, so if there is no travel, there is no money to be made.
Currently, no financial model will finance this kind of effort.
We hope the world can control this pandemic so that we can have a resurgence and a renewed interest in airport infrastructure.
DM: Moving to road construction, the Government introduced the Emergency Road Rehabilitation Programme (ERRP) 2. Can you give us an update on the work that has been done so far?
TC: When the programme began, we published the projects that we were going to undertake in local authorities.
We are going to publish a mid-term progress report on the progress made to date.
However summarily, I can say we have done right in some instances, and performed badly in others, mostly in small local authorities especially those in rural areas.
Firstly, because they do not have the human capacity in terms of engineers, support staff.
Although some road authorities with capacity moved in to try and help, that assistance was not very effective.
In urban areas, there was confusion over what takeover means. The takeover by the Government was after realising that the burden on local authorities was huge.
So the Government intervened to assist them so that they work on other roads, while the Government does other roads, especially routes that have a direct impact on citizens.
You will notice that the Government has focused on bus routes or main routes.
We have not gone into residential suburbs’ roads; we left that to the local authorities. So there was a time lag with the local authorities putting their houses in order.
Of course, the Government was not stopped by what was going on in the local authorities, we continued with our work.
There was also a bit of resistance from the local authorities but that did not stop us from executing our mandate. In cities such as Harare, Bulawayo, we moved in faster because those two cities had urgent needs that we needed to attend to with speed.
We have even finished some of the roads in these two cities.
In Mutare, it was a bit slow, mainly because it was very difficult to identify the roads that needed urgent attention in that city.
However, we finally found the roads and work commenced. In Kwekwe, we commenced work two months ago . . . it is the main road that connects Mbizo 1-22.
In terms of overall progress, we are almost 50-60 percent complete.
You will find that in terms of scope of work, we have fared much better in some areas than others.
For instance, pothole patching and gravelling, we have fared much better in that area compared to reconstruction and rehabilitation.
This is because of issues such as the procurement system. At times a contractor fails to perform to expectations. We have terminated contracts, and we are still evaluating some contracts because of performance issues.
DM: The Government recently flighted a tender for dualisation of the Harare-Gweru Highway. Which main other roads are set to be dualised?
TC: Harare-Gweru is the standard name, but it does not mean we are getting to Gweru.
Prior to the ERRP, the Ministry had embarked on the road development programme. This entailed dualisation in order to deal with congestion as we enter or leave the main cities. So, the Government was upgrading some strip roads to wide surfaced roads to help deal with congestion.
We had done some work and set aside funds. So as a Ministry we found it proper to complete that investment so that what was sunk in is not completely lost.
We will do the same for Harare-Marondera and other roads across the country that we had already embarked on under this programme.
DM: Can you give us an update on the progress with Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu road project?
TC: By Friday (last week) we will have reached 230km of rehabilitation of the road.
Our target has been 2023 for the completion of the 580km to Harare and that remains our target. However, we have had delays on account of acts of God act, such as the rains.
We lost almost four months. Our contractors have been directed to try and cover that.
We hope to continue working throughout the rainy season, but if the rains are as incessant as they were last year, there will be a complete stoppage of work.
DM: Zimbabwe’s dry port at Walvis Bay in Namibia was officially opened in 2019. How has it been faring since its opening?
TC: The dry port is currently under the management of National Handling Services (NHS).
Our plans were impacted by Covid-19 and even affected cargo.
Secondly, our own people from here could not travel to Namibia.
We had hired a Zimbabwean national who had been posted to Namibia, but as soon as he landed he was given an offer by some cargo enterprise. So we went back on the market to try and seek a manager, and we sought authority to recruit preferably a Namibian national and that authority has been granted.
With the lifting of the Covid-19 restrictions, we hope the interviews can now take
So far we have had business from Zimbabweans in Europe who are sending in goods especially vehicles and that has been the main business. We are also in the process of putting up refrigeration facilities so that we attract cold chain goods to the port.
At the moment, business is slow but the potential is there because Walvis bay port is a busy port.
It was recently expanded so we will get a fair share of the business.