THE Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu highway dualisation project has been pushed back by a further three months over new designs. This comes as government scouts for a new road designer after Austrian firm Geiger, which initially crafted a detailed design, lost the US$1,2 billion tender last year, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.
By Nyasha Chingono
In a meeting held between government and local contractors who have since been roped in to replace Chinese firm Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Group Limited Afecc, the two parties agreed that construction work along the highway would only begin after a new road design is crafted.
Before the government cancelled Geiger’s contract last year, the Austrian firm had already completed its road designs.
New road designs are expected to take three months upon which construction will commence, Zimbabwe Building Contractors’ Association (ZBCA) vice-president Gerald Chipumha says.
“We had a meeting last week. Government wants to kick-start the project soon but since Geiger lost the tender, there has to be a new design. So the process will take three months,” said Chipumha.
Chipumha said the new road design would cost US$520 000 of the total project cost estimated at US$400 million.
Although rehabilitation had already begun along smaller portions of Beatrice and Chivhu, dualisation is still pending.
“Due to political pressure, government has since begun on the 20-kilometre stretch from Beatrice and another 10 kilometres in Chivhu,” said Chipumha.
Government will award nine local construction firms 50-kilometre portions of the highway.
Last year, Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza said the government would float a US$250 million bond guaranteed by ZB Bank to fund the project, while negotiating with a new partner.
However, government is yet to float the bond, five months on in a move that is likely to further delay the dualisation project.
Matiza last month admitted that government was working on a shoe-string budget of US$150 million with only US$40 million having been disbursed for the rehabilitation of sections between Chivhu and Beatrice.
Matiza said the door was still open for foreign companies.
The Zimbabwe National Road Authority (Zinara) was expected to float infrastructure bonds to mobilise funds for upgrading the highway after government terminated a contract that had been awarded to Chinese contractor Afecc. But the process has stalled under unclear circumstances with sources saying government was avoiding debt.
Last year, Afecc’s financiers expressed concern with the build, operate and transfer arrangement (BOT), which they deemed unfeasible. Government, on its part, failed to convince the company on how it would realise the full benefits of the investment.
Afecc had only committed to do the 133km stretch from Harare to Chivhu under the BOT plan, resulting in government looking for funds to start the project, while negotiations continue.
According to the 2019 Ministry of Finance Infrastructure Investment Plan, US$300 million will be disbursed to the project, comprising of US$50 million in fiscal resources and US$250 million proceeds raised through a Zinara infrastructure bond.
The ministry said the position was taken after government failed to upgrade the road network through the public-private partnership (PPPs) agreement due to funding and contractual disagreements with foreign companies.
The roadworks consist of phased dualisation, rehabilitation, and widening of the existing road from the current seven metres to the Southern Africa Transport and Communications Commission standard width of 12,5 metres.
Government hopes dualisation will help address ease traffic congestion around major cities and towns along the Harare-Beitbridge highway.
Dualisation of at least 10km towards major cities will be undertaken by local contractors, with Matiza saying government would prioritise local contractors while negotiating another deal with Afecc.
To augment the bond, the Japanese government will disburse US$6,3 million to upgrade the Makuti-Hellsgate section of the Harare-Chirundu highway.
The Harare-Beitbridge highway is part of the North-South Corridor linking the south-eastern port of Durban in South Africa to other Sadc and Comesa member states to the north, facilitating trade with the region and Africa. The increase in traffic volumes, coupled with the poor state of the road, has resulted in congestion, increased accidents and loss of lives and property.