US$3bn Beitbridge-Chirundu highway project stinks graft

THE long-awaited dualisation of the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu highway now estimated to cost US$3 billion — a dramatic price escalation from the initial US$2 billion — has moved a step closer after the dodgy companies awarded the project began meetings in Harare this week to seal final agreements with government.

By Herbert Moyo

The project was awarded to Chinese firm China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC), which was blacklisted by the World Bank for fraud and corruption.

Austrian company Geiger International, which specialises in military equipment not construction, will finance the project.

CHEC, a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) Limited, has attracted controversy in Uganda and several other countries for shady deals.

CCCC has a murky past after it was blacklisted by the World Bank over fraudulent practices by its predecessor company China Road and Bridge Corporation in 2009.The debarment will only end next year.

“The World Bank today announced the debarment of, and all its subsidiaries, for fraudulent practices under Phase 1 of the Philippines National Roads Improvement and Management Project. Under the sanction, CCCC is ineligible to engage in any road and bridge projects financed by the World Bank Group until January 12, 2017,” the bank stated in a press release dated July 29 2011.

Despite the corrupt history of its parent company, CHEC was still awarded the massive project by government.

Transport minister Joram Gumbo this week told the Zimbabwe Independent that representatives of the two firms arrived last Thursday and have been holding discussions to come up with a bill of quantities ahead of meetings with government.

“Things are definitely moving. The contractor and the financier are in the country and they are working on an implementation plan which they will present to us when we begin our meetings with them this week,” Gumbo said on Monday.

He said government has been working on the basis of an estimate of US$2,7 billion, but the true cost of the project will only be known after the meetings which will come up with the “proper and final bill of quantities.”

“We have said that the estimated cost of the road is US$2,7 billion, but that is only an estimate. However, since they (contractor and financier) are now in the country, we will come up with a proper bill of quantities,” Gumbo said.

Zimbabwe is the artery and hub of Sadc’s road transport network linking Southern Africa with the rest of Africa.
The Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu highway facilitates the movement of millions of people between Southern Africa and central, east and north Africa while also facilitating regional trade.

The government has, however, failed to repair and upgrade the highway and many other roads which date back to the Rhodesian era.

But it was forced into action after learning of plans by South Africa and other regional countries to construct a new road which will bypass Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s neighbours are unhappy with the bad state of its road network.
Local engineers were last month deployed on site to carry out exploratory work.

However, government is yet to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) and a final agreement for the project. Gumbo said that the MoU will “soon” be signed after certain processes had been agreed on.

We have a Gantt chart and we have stages that we have to follow one after the other until we get to the ground-breaking event. This is the first time they are meeting and they have to agree on the programme and implementation plan. Once we finalise that we will sign an MoU and we will ask His Excellency (President Robert Mugabe) to conduct the ground-breaking ceremony,” Gumbo said.

He said the project would create employment for at least 300 000 people, some as suppliers, some in clearing the stretch and others in the construction.