Zimbabwe’s rundown road network dangerous
BULAWAYO — Three months ago, the Zimbabwe National Roads Authority (ZINARA) launched a National Roads Conditions Survey to determine the state of the country’s dilapidated roads.
The project, expected to cost nearly US$2 million, will, in the words of ZINARA chief executive officer, Moses Juma, give critical data to determine the “structural integrity, distresses, skid resistance and overall quality of the road pavement” across the country.
Information from that survey, said Juma, would be used “to determine the road network rehabilitation requirements and costs required”.
Most of the country’s major roads were constructed before independence from colonial rule in 1980.
They have outlived their lifespan, and many are now dilapidated, with potholes or patches where efforts have been made to repair.
Landlocked Zimbabwe is essentially a transport hub for the southern African region: Traffic from South Africa passes through Zimbabwe on its way to Zambia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and some parts of Mozambique. Consignments landing at the port of Beira in Mozambique have had to pass through Zimbabwe to Zambia, Botswana and Namibia.
There have been large volumes of traffic from the DRC to South Africa passing through Zimbabwe.
Therefore, Zimbabwe is under pressure to not only rehabilitate its roads, but also modernise them.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology.
In terms of that protocol, Zimbabwe agreed to assist in developing an adequate road network that supports the socioeconomic growth underway in the region.
The network needs to provide access to major centres, ports, and harbours, while minimising road transport costs and impacts to the environment.
According to Sadc, roads affect all aspects of development in the region.
“Businesses depend on effective roads for transporting their goods, industry relies on roads for delivery of equipment, and people require roads for travel between home, workplaces, and elsewhere in the region,” the regional body said.
But Zimbabwe is facing budgetary constraints, and has very limited capacity to undertake infrastructure projects without funding from external sources.
As a result, President Robert Mugabe’s government has called for urgent investment in the country’s roads by the private sector.
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Joram Gumbo, admitted that Zimbabwe’s roads are in a deplorable state and has called on private sector investment to help improve the road infrastructure, which could require significant capital outlay.
“Let me at the outset point out that as a country we are in urgent need of investment in our roads sector, as government and as a country we are open to investment in infrastructure,” Gumbo told the inaugural infrastructure conference in Bulawayo held at the Mining, Engineering and Transport (Mine Entra) expo.
“In the early 80s development agencies funded some of our road rehabilitation programmes. Donor funding is however no longer available and what we now need is sustainable investment based on our own resources,” he said.
Although there have been a few road upgrades since the country adopted a hard currency regime in 2009, most have been marred by controversy, particularly over costs.
For example, the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu highway, which has been outstanding for close to two decades, was recently awarded to a Chinese firm, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC), for a massive US$2,2 billion.
The project was initially expected to cost nearly US$900 million 13 years ago.
It turned out the Chinese firm is blacklisted by the World Bank for alleged corruption, raising questions about the possibility of graft in the tender allocation.
The Harare-Beitbridge-Chirundu highway is part of a trunk road network that is part of the North-South Corridor, one of the major arterial links in the regional road network.
According to Royal HaskoningDHV, which was in 2013 commissioned by government to conduct a feasibility study for the improvement of the highway to determine the viability of the construction and tolling of the road, the road is the most direct link between the capital cities of Harare and Pretoria and provides landlocked Zambia access to the Indian Ocean Ports of Durban and Richards Bay in South Africa.
An African Development Bank (AfDB) report, Infrastructure and Growth in Zimbabwe – An Action Plan for Sustained Strong Economic Growth, highlighted that there had been a “sustained deterioration in the quality of infrastructure assets” in the country over the past 10 or so years. The report said the deterioration had “stemmed from very inadequate levels of public expenditures for routine and periodic maintenance of the infrastructure networks”.
“Infrastructure services in road transport and communications that are provided by the private sector are now more expensive than in neighbouring countries, reflecting in part the economic costs of the deterioration,” the report said.
The report said the deterioration in physical infrastructure had “been accompanied by lack of progress in building institutional capacities for management and regulation of the basic services associated with these networks”.
“Problems in this area stem from a disjoined approach to regulation and oversight among the ministries responsible for these sectors, compounded by a substantial loss of skills in the public workforce,” said the report.
It said the deterioration in basic infrastructure had resulted in “a serious impact on other productive sectors of the economy as well as the level and quality of services”.
It noted that in the early 1990s, the coverage and quality of basic infrastructure in Zimbabwe was among the best in the region.
However, there had been “a substantial deterioration in the quality of these infrastructure assets” in the past decade, the report said, adding: “As things now stand, the amount and quality of the country’s infrastructure is roughly in line with that of other Southern African countries, but as with many other Sub-Saharan countries, Zimbabwe now lags behind most other regional groupings in the world in infrastructure service coverage and quality.”
The country has an estimated total road network of 95 000 km, most of which require extensive rehabilitation.
Seventy percent of the road network is however gravel or earth roads, which fall under the jurisdiction of either the District Development Fund or Rural District Councils.
The special indaba organised by the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair Company in partnership with the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (ZINARA), under the theme: “Unearthing investment opportunities in Zimbabwe’s road infrastructure”, ran concurrently with this year’s edition of Mine Entra.
Gumbo said most of the roads in the country no longer required routine and periodic maintenance.
“Our roads are in need of total rehabilitation and we need to attract investors to fund the programme,” he said.
The Minister said most of the major roads no longer had “”serviceable shoulders for vehicles to pull over in the event of breakdowns, which contributed to traffic accidents.
He said the rehabilitation programme should see roads getting widened, fenced and signage put up.
Gumbo said government has a national road development and rehabilitation programme in place, and this required funding of about US$5 billion over the next five to 10 years at a cost of US$500 million annually.
“However the allocation received by my ministry from both ZINARA and Treasury in 2015 was just over US$6 million. This has been the trend over the years resulting in a huge backlog in road maintenance, hence the poor condition of our national road network,” he said.
“I make this call fully aware that within the prevailing economic climate the fiscus alone is not able to finance the current infrastructure backlog in our country. At the moment treasury does not have the capacity to fund road infrastructure development.”
Indeed, based on the AfDB’s findings, government had put in place an infrastructure programme that was meant to span over a decade from 2011. It included rehabilitation of a large part of the national road network, as well as rehabilitation of the railways network and restructuring of the railway industry through the creation of a new public entity that would own, maintain, and manage the basic track infrastructure; the restructuring of the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) into a privatised railways services company and the award of concessions for freight and passenger services on the entire rail network.
Apparently, railway is an integral part of Zimbabwe’s road network infrastructure and plays a significant role in the economic wellbeing of the landlocked country.
Much of that decade-long plan has stalled, but had it been fully implemented, it was expected to result in the development of a wide range of business activities and job creation in the 10 years to 2022.
Some of the report’s recommendations had included ensuring that Zimbabwe’s ranking on the World Bank’s Doing Business Report was improved.
The report had noted that various international surveys in developing countries had found the business environment in Zimbabwe less favourable than in many other countries.
“A range of actions might need to be taken by the government to address these concerns. These may include specific actions on areas where Zimbabwe’s ranking is poor; for example, the amount of time required to start a business, and the amount of time required to obtain construction permits,” the report said.
Government appears to have heeded this advise, and has undertaken a number of measures to improve the country’s poor ranking; bureaucratic processes are being eliminated to reduce the time required to start a business, and even the amount required to obtain construction permits.
The initiative is being spearheaded by the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), which has roped in all local authorities in the country as well as regulatory institutions with anything to do with the issuance of licences.
That, it is believed, will make the country more attractive to foreign investors in infrastructure projects, and could in fact even reduce the cost of doing business in Zimbabwe.
Gumbo said his ministry was putting a lot of effort to ensure the speedy implementation of the Harare-Beitbridge-Chirundu project.
He said government would be shortly inviting bids for the rehabilitation of other major roads such as the Beitbridge-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road and the Harare-Nyamapanda road.
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