Thursday, March 31, 2016

Japanese Support in Roads Rehab Welcome in Zimbabwe
March 30, 2016
Opinion & Analysis
Zimbabwe Herald

President Robert Mugabe is visiting Japan and on Monday he witnessed the signing of some agreements.

His tour is meant to consolidate the bi-lateral relations between our friendly countries. In addition to extending a $5 million grant to Zimbabwe, the Asian powerhouse pledged to fund the development of roads here.

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, speaking after meeting the President on Monday said they committed themselves to a framework to guide future co-operation in broader areas.

“More specifically,” said PM Abe, “we will render our co-operation for the improvement and development of road infrastructure in Zimbabwe’s north-south corridor.  It is a great pleasure for me that I state our further co-operation after our last year’s grant aid ($15 million), the first of its kind in 15 years.  Japan established diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe in 1980, the year of independence of Zimbabwe, a country with abundant resources and great nature, and has built friendly relations ever since.”

Road construction, rehabilitation and maintenance is a central part of Zim-Asset.  It makes up a sub-set of one of the four pillars that anchor the 2013-2015 economic recovery and growth plan, the cluster of infrastructure and utilities.

Railways, communication and energy generation systems are other components of the Zim-Asset pillar of infrastructure and utilities.

Therefore any new investment into our roads, such as that we have been promised by Japan will go a long way in putting in place the enabling physical conditions for the economy to recover and grow.

Broadly our roads are decrepit, having been in use for longer than their design periods. Many of them are too narrow for the growing volume of traffic.

This results in accidents as well as lower speeds in the movement of cargo, which impacts negatively on economic revival and growth.

Our roads are extensively potholed, which causes accidents and slows down movement of cargo too. The extent of coverage of the highways is not to the level that is ideal.  Furthermore, only a fraction of them are tarred with most rural areas connected by gravel roads. Only the main urban centres are linked by paved ones.

An economy like ours that is developing cannot fully function on potholed, gravel highways but on modern roads that make movement of cargo and human traffic faster, safer and more efficiently.  At least $5 billion is needed for our roads to be in that state, according to official estimates.

PM Abe did not specify the roads to be worked on using Japanese resources, but dropped a hint when he spoke about the “north-south corridor.”

We can justifiably speculate that the corridor that he meant was the 922km Beitbridge-Masvingo-Chivhu-Harare-Nyamapanda road, the country’s busiest, most important, yet the most dilapidated for the high volume of traffic that uses it.

Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Joram Gumbo recently said the $2 billion dualisation of that trunk road was a priority for the government.  A tender dispute pitting the government and a consortium of 14 local construction firms that stalled progress appears to have been resolved, he said recently, paving the way for work to begin.

“Beitbridge-Chirundu Road is a priority for the Ministry and His Excellency the President is eager to see to it that we start work on this road which was delayed because of the wrangle that was there between the Ministry and a contractor —ZimHighways,” Minister Gumbo said.

“We are at the moment narrowing the list (of bidders) from about 12 and we are now left with three companies, which we are considering now.  There are many things to consider. We want companies that will also have local companies working on these roads.

“There is also plan to work on the Beitbridge-Gwanda through Bulawayo to Victoria Falls road and the Harare-Nyamapanda Road. We want to see to it that all these roads refurbished because they bring in a lot of money. They connect Central Africa and East Africa.”

Other roads that should be dualised include the Harare-Bulawayo one, Bulawayo-Masvingo-Mutare and Harare-Mutare ones.

We look forward to seeing work beginning as soon as possible on our road infrastructure.  Japan has the financial capacity to invest not only in the Beitbridge-Masvingo-Chivhu-Harare-Nyamapanda road but many others as well.

The financial outlay that is required is too much for the government and local companies therefore Japanese support would be very much welcome.

Toll fees are a useful revenue stream, but are inadequate to build a new road, hence the government’s active search for strong financial backing.

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