Lovemore Ranga Mataire: THE INTERVIEW
President Mugabe on Thursday commissioned the dualisation of the main road linking Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia to the rest of Africa amid pomp and fanfare at Chaka Business Centre in Midlands Province. Described as the country’s economic corridor, it is envisaged that upon completion the dualisation will not only energise economic activities within and beyond the borders of Zimbabwe through smooth movement of goods and people, but will also see the reduction of road carnage largely attributed to the poor state of the highway. Senior Writer Lovemore Ranga Mataire (LRM) spoke to the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development Dr Joram Gumbo (JG) on the significance of the dualisation project.
LRM: There was pomp and fanfare when President Mugabe commissioned the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Harare Highway estimated to cost $984 million. Why do you think the commissioning of the road is a cause for celebration?
JG: It’s a cause for celebration for many reasons. First, it is an important road because it is the North-South corridor connecting Sadc countries. The highway is the busiest and directly connects Zimbabwe and Zambia to ports in South Africa.
So economically, the highway is critical to the sustainability of trade given the fact that Zimbabwe, Zambia and the DRC are all landlocked. So when we bring goods from the ports they have to be carried through this road. You are aware that this highway was too narrow and given the volume of traffic that over the years has continued to increase, there were a lot of accidents.
So we needed to dualise it in order to reduce the frequency of accidents. Socially, you realise that the highway connects people through travelling within our region. Besides all these reasons that I have mentioned, the construction of the highway is going to create more than 330 000 jobs among locals and other experts from our institutions of higher learning.
Thousands of jobs will also be created downstream with individual companies benefiting through supply of labour and other services. It is all these things that are surely a cause for celebration. Most countries would now be able to move their goods and if we had not done so other countries were going to do the same.
LRM: But given the importance of this highway as the North-South Corridor, why has the dualisation taken so long to take off?
JG: As you are aware, I joined the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development when this project was already on the cards. I, however, believe that all development is done in stages. I am sure what has hindered the initiation of the dualisation is the question of funding. There was no funding.
Maybe I was quick to find a contractor whose terms were favourable to the country. As an economist, I weighed the options and chose Geiger International because there is nowhere we could have gotten an interest of 1,5 percent. It’s a cause for celebration because in normal circumstances where such huge sums of money are involved we would be talking of around 18 percent.
The other reason which might have delayed commencement of the project was probably the fact that we had not reached the stage of development as for example that which is prevailing in South Africa. So the development dynamics sometimes demand that you initiate certain processes.
You will be interested to know that we negotiated with the contractor that 40 percent of the total value of the project must be given to local contractors. There will be a lot of construction on the highway including that of about 37 bridges. So we will have local engineering companies takig, some supplying fuel, implements etc.
LRM: But Honourable Minister the general state of our roads is bad. Are there any plans to rehabilitate or dualise other important highways linking us with other countries in the region?
JG: Plans are underway to dualise the Beitbridge-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highway including the Harare-Nyamapanda, Plumtree-Mutare because we believe these are important roads that can generate a lot of economic activities.
LRM: Explain how the toll fees would be managed during the lifespan of the Beitbridge-Harare dualisation project?
JG: There will be more tollgates along the way. Proper tollgates would be constructed because there are virtually no tollgates on this highway linking Zimbabwe, South and Zambia.
So we are going to have the same arrangement we have with Univern officials on the Bulawayo-Mutare Highway in maintaining and managing toll fees during the concession period. Motorists will be able to pay and that will also contribute in the funding of the project.
LRM: I understand the company contracted to undertake the dualisation of the 580 kilometres road to be built under a Build-Operate-Transfer model, Geiger International (GI), is an Austrian company and Austria is part of the European Union, which together with the US slapped economic sanctions on Zimbabwe. Are you not concerned that the co-operation you have with Geiger International may be scuttled because of the sanctions?
JG: I cannot predict what is going to happen in the future. However, I believe individual companies are able to separate business and politics. You may be aware that there are many American companies coming to Zimbabwe wanting to do business with us because they realise the potential that this country has.
I have no doubt that even those countries that imposed sanctions on us as part of EU are gradually realising that they were dragged into a bilateral issue between Zimbabwe and Britain over the issue of land. All I can tell you is that the future for Zimbabwe is bright.
LRM: Lastly, amidst the gloom largely portrayed by the country’s detractors your ministry has managed to initiate various projects including the refurbishment and expansion of the Victoria Falls Highway. How does it make you feel when the President, your Principal showers praises on you as the head of the ministry for a job well done?
JG: I feel most humbled by such an acknowledgement. I feel inspired to work even much harder. Maybe the advantage is that I was a manager for quite a long time and so I am hands-on. Right now I am inspecting some roads in Masvingo. I don’t want people lying to me, I need to see it myself and this gives me an added advantage when making decisions.