Harare-Beitbridge Highway project raises eyebrows

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THE construction of the Airport Road, known as the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Expressway, in Harare, which was plagued by inflated cost structures, incompetence and unprofessional conduct by local constructors, has fuelled fears that the construction of the Harare-Beitbridge highway could be scandalously expensive as 40% of the project will be sub-contracted to local companies, experts have warned.

By Hazel Ndebele

Government is next year expected to roll out a billion dollar road construction project linking the landlocked country to its busiest ports of entry. But experts say the cost structure could fritter away taxpayer funds.

Construction experts say the tenders could also be awarded to politically connected people with no experience, which could result in shoddy workmanship.

This comes as Transport and Infrastructure Development minister Joram Gumbo last week signed a Concession Agreement and Engineering Procurement and Construction contract with Geiger International to pave way for the start of the dualisation of the Harare-Beitbridge highway. The project is valued at US$984 million.

There is concern from insiders, taxpayers and stakeholders, who fear that just like the construction of Airport Road, the project will be mired in incompetence, price escalation and lack of capacity by subcontractors.

An audit report by the Auditor-General, Mildred Chiri into the Airport Road project, which was financed by the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) and undertaken by the Department of Roads (DOR), revealed that obsolete plant and machinery, which constantly broke down, was hired and Zinara was forced to pay for idle hours during the construction period.

The report dated June 30 2015 also reveals that the same old and problematic equipment, which was leased for the Airport Road dualisation project, was being hired out to other projects which were running concurrently.

Whilst there are a lot of good local contractors and subcontractors, sources say, tenders are usually awarded corruptly to accommodate the personal financial interests of government officials and their cronies.

“Lessons on the construction of the Airport Road demonstrate that the similar thing could happen to the Beitbridge-Chirundu road. Government hired subcontractors who did not have capacity and during the process inflated prices,” an insider said.

“Lack of capacity by subcontractors (surfacing) depends on hired equipment which has limited control over as well as poor project management planning on the implementer’s side and the department was just procuring excess materials untimely leading to tying of money unnecessarily and/or potential prejudice,” the audit report revealed.

It was also observed by the audit that there was haphazard procurement of material, which resulted in Zinara losing more than US$100 000 in over-ordering with most of the material either looted or lying idle by the roadside.

Material such as crusher run was over-supplied to the tune of US$40 776, which is now lying by the roadside. Crusher dust valued at US$21 650, bitumen worth US$19 479 and shelvert panels worth US$2 880 were wasted.

“Bitumen ordered was 150 000 litres, on site was supplied only 90 000 litres and 75 571 litres were used on the project. Leaving 14 129 litres with trail of wastage and a potential prejudice of US$19 479,” reads the report.

Construction experts who are concerned that the Harare-Beitbridge highway could be treated the same way as the Airport Road have raised concerns that the country could afford to dualise the road in the present economic conditions. Construction and dualisation of the 897km Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu stretch is expected to cost US$2,7 billion.

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