Source: Setback for Beitbridge-Chirundu dualisation | The Financial Gazette April 27, 2017
By Tendai Makaripe
GOVERNMENT has put brakes on the US$3 billion Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu dualisation project, despite the recent hype around what could be Zimbabwe’s biggest infrastructure project since independence in 1980.
The dualisation project was supposed to be launched by President Robert Mugabe last month, with construction work starting this month.
But Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister, Joram Gumbo, said this week that government was no longer in a hurry to start the project.
“The project cannot be rushed,” Gumbo told the Financial Gazette. “A project of this magnitude involves a lot of complex processes that cannot be completed overnight.”
Asked why he was backtracking from government’s earlier commitment, Gumbo said there were many bureaucratic processes involving different arms of government which were stalling the project.
“For example, some of the processes involve the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, an institution with its own way of doing things. We also need to open bank accounts at the same time giving ear to our financial advisors on the proper route to take,” he said.
Asked to explain why the project was not commissioned by President Mugabe last month as he had indicated in February, Gumbo said: “I will have to wait and hear from my boss on when he will commission the project. What I can tell you is that it will take place near Mvuma.”
Apparently, it is now nearly 10 months since government announced that it had found an investor, who would pour at least US$2,7 billion into the project.
Last year, government entered into an agreement with a Chinese contractor, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC), to do the work, which would be financed by Austrian firm, Geiger International (Geiger) on a 25-year Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) model. The road continues to wear at a rapid pace, battered by elements. The heavy rains which poured on the country this year left most road infrastructure heavily damaged. The treacherous highway, whose poor state has been blamed for fatal road traffic accidents, is a critical artery in the southern African region.
The latest development is a strange turn of events, considering that the ruling ZANU-PF party is banking on the project to show its commitment to turn around the economy and create jobs promised during the 2013 elections, in which it won a landslide victory against the opposition parties.
There is speculation the ZANU-PF administration could be deliberately delaying the project in order to launch it close to elections, which are slated for next year. The ruling party is already gearing for what promises to be a crunch general election.
ZANU-PF is known for turning national projects into campaign platforms. Already, reports elsewhere in this newspaper suggest that over 700 people in Karoi, Mashonaland West, have registered for jobs on the stretch of the highway project that pass through the district.
With the dualisation of the highway expected to create thousands of jobs, it comes in handy for the party which has received brickbats for failing to deliver the 2,2 million jobs it promised ahead of the 2013 general elections.
Watchers have said the project could be ZANU-PF’s perfect opportunity to appease the agitated populace as the plebiscite draws closer.
But Gumbo denied this was the case.
“That is mere speculation; there is no political involvement whatsoever. This is purely a technical matter,” he said, explaining the current development.
The highway has been delayed for years owing to many factors, among them a nasty legal wrangle involving government and ZimHighways — a consortium of 14 construction firms that included Murray & Roberts Zimbabwe (now Masimba Holdings), Costain Africa (now ZCL Holdings, which is under judicial management), Kuchi Building Construction, Tarcon, Bitumen Construction Services (Bitcon), Joina Development Company and Southland Engineers — which had won the tender for the 900km highway at a cost of US$883 million.
Fed up by the delays, government sought to terminate the contract, arguing that the consortium lacked the financial wherewithal to do the work. ZimHighways claimed that the delays were caused by senior government officials who demanded bribes to facilitate the project.
The battle ended two years ago when government sweet-talked the consortium into withdrawing the case and opt for an out of court settlement under which it would be granted 40 percent of a stake on the road project.
CHEC has also had its own fair share of controversy.
It is a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), which in 2011 courted controversy in Uganda and several other countries for alleged shoddy deals.
CCCC was blacklisted by the World Bank over fraudulent practices by its predecessor, China Road and Bridge Corporation, in 2009.
But government defended its decision to award it the tender, arguing that that it was CCCC, and not CHEC, that was blacklisted.
The highway is Zimbabwe’s busiest road, carrying nearly 5 000 vehicles per day.
It is not only part of the trunk network in Zimbabwe, but also a major component of the north-south traffic corridor directly linking Harare and Pretoria, and providing landlocked Zambia with access to the Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richards Bay in South Africa.