By Tinashe Kairiza
CONSTRUCTION of Zimbabwe’s massive new parliament in Mt Hampden near the capital is ahead of schedule, despite the deepening economic crisis militating against the multi-million dollar project, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.
The imposing six-storey parliament building, perched on Mt Hampden, north of Harare, is being financed through a US$100 million grant from the Chinese government with Shanghai Construction Group doing the construction.
It is the largest project in Southern Africa financed by China Aid — a Chinese government-owned global development aid agency — and the biggest to benefit a single African country.
Beijing also bankrolled the US$200 million African Union (AU) Parliament building in Ethiopia, but the building, commissioned in 2012, benefits the entire continent.
Shanghai Construction Group project manager for the Zimbabwe parliament building Cai Li Bo, told the Independent during a tour of the project site that the project was ahead of schedule despite economic bottlenecks affecting operations.
However, he said fuel shortages gripping the country were disrupting the project, with the firm now consuming an estimated 10 000 litres of fuel every month from a monthly requirement of 20 000 litres. The Central Mechanical Department (CMED), which has been supplying fuel for the project, is also struggling to meet the company’s requirement. In addition, the company is failing to access money for the project’s daily needs, including petty cash to purchase basic provisions such as vegetables.
Cai said owing to currency reforms recently introduced by government in June resulting in the re-introduction of the Zimbabwean dollar, and the subsequent scrapping of the multicurrency regime, the company can no longer withdraw US dollars.
The money is converted to local currency using the prevailing bank rate.
“But still, we can’t get the local currency from the bank. It makes things difficult because we need cash for our daily operations,” Cai said.
An attempt to withdraw ZW$10 000, Cai said, has not materialised, three weeks after a request was lodged at the firm’s bank.
Cai said the project has also been affected by power cuts, but the problem was resolved after President Emmerson Mnangagwa visited the construction site in June.
“During our discussions with government representatives, they promised to supply power for this project. For now, we are not experiencing any power interruptions except for routine faults,” Cai said.
Despite the setbacks, Cai said 60% of the work had been done adding the building would be complete by March 2021, in line with the deadline.
“Our aim is to complete the project before the agreed timeframe, and we are working hard to achieve that. We work everyday, including weekends and we have no holidays,” Cai said.
“We work in shifts to make sure that work progresses well. We also pay overtime and have monthly rewards for hard workers and this has given our workers a reason to work hard. We are building a six-storey building and we are on the third floor. We aim to finish the inner and outside structures of the building, so that next year we concentrate on the decorations or finishings.”
He said the massive structure will have two conference centres each with a capacity to accommodate 350 people. It will also have a banquet hall which can accommodate 1 000 people, offices for parliamentary officers and several boardrooms for parliamentary committee sessions.
“We are using 4 000 tonnes of steel and 20 000 tonnes of cement for the project,” Cai said.
He projected that the new parliament building, which is the first project in the envisaged new city, will attract significant investment to Mt Hampden. Anjin, another Chinese company, is already constructing a hotel in the area.
Cai said the project bears testimony to good bilateral relations between China and Zimbabwe, now elevated to strategic levels.
“The project shows that we have good relations. There are no strings attached to the project. China is not demanding anything from Zimbabwe in return for the project. Once we finish, we will hand it over to the government of Zimbabwe and that’s where our role ends,” he said.
The new parliament building’s architectural design borrows heavily from the iconic Great Zimbabwe Monuments — one of the country’s leading tourist resorts and Unesco World Heritage Site — from which the country derives its name.