AS part of its development thrust Zimbabwe has embarked on many capital projects which however remain a pie in the sky as government fails to ensure their completion.
Most of the projects have missed set targets several times with government often citing lack of funds for its failure to implement them on time if at all, amid widespread suspicion that funds are being misused or diverted to other uses.
The Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project immediately springs to mind as one such project as it has remained a pipedream for generations.
Most of those who have grown up in the Matabeleland region have heard about the Zambezi water project which was first mooted more than a century ago in 1912 by the colonial Rhodesian government.
In 1993 at the instance of a lobby group, the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Trust, which was formed by leading Zanu PF politicians from the region including late vice-presidents Joshua Nkomo and John Nkomo and current chairperson Dumiso Dabengwa, and with grudging government support, a comprehensive project study was carried out by a Swedish company which identified overwhelming benefits of implementing the project.
The company advised that the first phase of the project should include construction of a dam at the confluence of the Gwayi and Shangani rivers, concurrently with the installation of a pipeline from the dam to Bulawayo. The pipeline was supposed to include several pumping stations to raise the water from the dam to the watershed at Lupane, whereafter the water would flow southwards by gravity.
The third phase of the project involved the installation of a pipeline, with pumping stations running from the Zambezi river to the Gwayi-Shangani Dam to enable topping up of the dam when required.
But 21 years after the study, the government is still to complete the first phase of the project.
Construction of the Gwayi-Shangani Dam, which began in 2004, has been hampered by “lack of funding” and US$90 million is required for its completion. Government now targets 2016 as the completion of the dam and 2018 for the whole Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project at a total cost of US$1,2 billion. But not many will be holding their breath given the long history of missed targets.
If complete the project would bring relief to the parched Bulawayo and the Matabeleland region where perennial water problems have been partly blamed for de-industrialisation of the region
In Harare, the Kunzvi Dam project has been on the drawing board from as far back as the 1990s when the then Department of Water Development put forward plans for the construction of a new reservoir on Nyaguwe River to serve Harare and its satellite towns.
By that time it was anticipated that Lake Chivero and Manyame Dam as well as the smaller Harava and Seke dams would not meet the demand for water in Harare due to the growing population. But two decades later Kunzvi is still to be implemented with the government dithering on its construction.
The unfinished projects mirror many other government-initiated ventures launched with headline-grabbing pomp and fanfare. This is in stark contrast to South African company Group Five (G5) which has been rehabilitating the country’s major roads in what passes off as record time and at a cheaper cost.
Recently, G5 issued a statement that the Plumtree-Bulawayo-Mutare Road, which stretches close to 800km, would be completed a year ahead of schedule at a cost of US$200 million.
Zimbabwe’s unfinished projects have become an eyesore as expensive equipment is left to rust on sites.
Dualisation of the Harare-Masvingo Road, rehabilitation of the Airport Road, Tokwe-Murkosi Dam, Gwayi-Shangani, Kunzvi and Mtshabezi Dams have become part of finance ministers’ budget statements for decades, but little progress has been made.
Zimbabweans will remember the late transport minister, Enos Chikowore’s famous ground-breaking ceremonies across the Hunyani River for the Harare-Chitungwiza railway line.
The railway line, much talked about during election campaigns, is yet to be implemented. The preliminary assessment (technical and economic) was completed in May 1987.
Youth Initiative for Democracy in Zimbabwe director, Sydney Chisi, said the unfinished projects reflect the country’s economic meltdown since Independence.
“The unfinished projects can be juxtaposed with economic blueprints since Independence. Up to now, Zimbabwe has witnessed 14 economic blueprints with most of them never seeing light of day,” Chisi said.
“This is the same with developmental issues whose main objective is more political rather than developmental.”
Currently, the Harare City Council is facing allegations of stalling the rehabilitation of the Morton Jaffray Waterworks after the officials used part of the funds to buy luxury cars.
Investigations revealed that the council officials did not create project bank accounts for the US$144,4 million loan facility obtained from China’s Eximbank for the rehabilitation of the waterworks, making alleged corruption surrounding the funds difficult to trace.
Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni disclosed that part of the loan was used to purchase 25 luxury cars, which include Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
The Harare Airport Road is another project that has stalled amid revelations that the cash-strapped council paid 800% more than it should have for the 20km stretch of road.
The upgrading of the airport road commenced in June 2008, after a caretaker council appointed by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo signed an agreement with an Estonian-registered company, Augur Investments (Pvt) Ltd. The Zimbabwe National Roads Authority (Zinara) has since taken over the project.
The Masvingo-Beitbridge Road dualisation is another project that failed to take off in 2004 due to the hyperinflationary environment.
Local economist Maxwell Saungweme said: “The government tends to commence such projects without the capacity to complete and manage them.
“There is general lack of accountability in government making it easy for the privileged few to siphon off donations for projects. The other element is that government lacks fiscal discipline and funds earmarked or donated for development projects are diverted to politically expedient causes like agricultural inputs to Zanu PF supporters.”
He also said government should rope in the private sector through public-private partnerships (PPPs) where projects are funded based on their bankability.
Dumisani Nkomo, a political commentator, concurs with Saungweme that government embarks on ambitious projects without assessing its capacity to complete them.
“The government is not serious about major infrastructural projects which remain economic drivers in the country,” Nkomo said. “The problem is that the bulk of the national budget is spent on the administrative sector rather than on capital projects which have the potential of creating more jobs and downstream economic activities,” Nkomo said.
Projects such as the Kariba electricity generation expansion and numerous thermal power projects that government has planned, but is struggling to launch or finish due to either lack of funding or poor planning and implementation, easily come to mind, Nkomo said.
He also said while non-implementation of government projects has been discussed ad nauseum, one cannot run away from the fact that what defines and characterises how projects are conceptualised and funded, and contracts awarded and implemented has long ceased to have public or national interests at heart, but rather personal and self-serving interests.