The Sunday Mail
Hon Joel Biggie Matiza
TRANSPORT is key to development and economic growth in a country.
It provides links within countries and connections across borders to seaports. The provision of road transport infrastructure in Zimbabwe over the past two decades has faced a number of challenges that include inadequate funding, natural disasters and poor maintenance and rehabilitation.
The increased deterioration of some surfaced roads was because they had outlived their lifespan.
The country’s road network is about 88 133km. About 14 000km are surfaced while 50 000km are all-weather roads and the rest are earth roads. These roads are classified according to the functions they perform as follows:
l Regional trunk roads – these are approximately 3 391km long of which about 94 percent is surfaced;
l Primary roads – these are intercity roads that are not part of the regional trunk roads;
l Secondary roads – they connect regional, primary, tertiary and urban roads, industrial and mining centres, tourist attractions and minor borders; and
l Tertiary roads, which provide access to schools, health centres, dip tanks and other service facilities in rural district council areas or connect and provide access to secondary, primary and regional roads.
Of particular importance to the road network are the bridges that facilitate the road and rail crossing of waterways and other obstructions through viaducts, interchanges, road over road and road over rail.
To date, there are about 1 051 bridges in Zimbabwe and the number is projected to increase due to ongoing road rehabilitation programmes. A good road network is therefore vital for a country’s quest for development.
Because of the nature of sovereignty and competitive economic growth, land-linked countries face various challenges, some of which have caused high transport costs.
As such, land linked countries like Zimbabwe end up not gaining much from their natural resource endowments due to a poor road network that increases the cost of doing business and inherently their exports.
In this regard, their comparative advantage in mining and agriculture among other sectors, is affected due to increased transport costs which negatively affect local production of both primary commodities and finished goods.
For instance, the export prices for Zimbabwe’s coal and chrome end up being higher due to transport costs.
Road transport is designed to provide access to economic sectors such as agriculture and mining. With poor connectivity to markets, farmers in particular, are more affected.
There is loss of agricultural produce, high cost of transportation and low uptake of rural transportation by transporters especially in remote areas. It becomes difficult for the farmers to carry inputs and to get their fresh produce to local markets thereby making them lose on their investments.
With a good road network, cabbages grown in Chimanimani, for instance, should be sold in Bulawayo or Beitbridge while still fresh and at a price close to that at the farm gate.
Critical to economic growth is the provision of adequate links to seaports. The effects of globalisation have pushed most countries to adopt trade facilitation initiatives to have access to the sea. In an endeavour to overcome the limitations of being a land-linked country and promote trade and economic growth, some countries have established inland dry ports facilities.
Zimbabwe also adopted this initiative and through the private sector, developed a container port facility in Mutare. Last year, Zimbabwe also established the Walvis Bay Dry Port in Namibia.
Such dry ports combined with a good road network and effective and efficient soft transport infrastructure will enable the nations to fully enjoy their comparative advantage with exports becoming more competitive on the world market.
Poor road infrastructure also leads to painful costs in the form of accidents with people losing lives in some cases. Given that accidents also claim the economically active population, there is an increased burden to both Government and immediate family members.
For Zimbabwe, it is estimated that 3 percent of the country’s GDP is lost each year due to road accidents. In 2016, Government adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a good road network will partly assist in attaining these SDGs.
The global challenge resulting from climate change brings about the need to vigorously pursue sustainable transport infrastructure systems in order to achieve the integrated 2030 SDGs. The establishment of hard physical infrastructure like roads and bridges is, therefore, crucial to achieve SDGs, notably, SDG 9 which enjoins nations to have resilient infrastructure by 2030.
Following the March 2019 Cyclone Idai disaster, which wiped out major road links and bridges in the south-eastern part of the country, Government through research and development continues to seek alternative, sustainable and resilient compounds and materials for use in road construction.
Key to the Government’s policy thrust of Vision 2030 is the drive towards the betterment of the Zimbabwean people.
To achieve this, attainment of SDGs is paramount and it dovetails with the national vision coined by President Mnangagwa of making Zimbabwe an upper middle income economy by 2030.
The Second Republic brought a new dawn to the transport sector in the country seen by massive road construction projects which are being undertaken in each province, a feature that was not common in Zimbabwe.
A lot, however, still needs to be done as only about 20 percent of the country’s road network is surfaced while the rest are gravel or earth roads.
Huge investment in road construction by both Government and the private sector is a necessity for this impetus to be maintained.
Investment in road infrastructure in the form of Public Sector Investment Programmes (PSIPs) has been up-scaled since the onset of the New Dispensation. In the 2020 National Budget, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development allocated nearly $2,2 billion for construction and rehabilitation of roads and bridges nationwide.
Road construction projects are part of capital expenditure in national budgets and by nature such projects are non-inflationary and have positive multiplier effects on the economy. Empirical evidence worldwide suggests that massive investment in infrastructure can pull a country out of a recession where there is unity of purpose.
During the 2008/09 global economic recession, most developed countries embarked on massive infrastructure projects to curb the recession.
To complement Government efforts towards road construction, the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) collects road user charges which are channelled towards road development and maintenance by road authorities such as urban councils, rural district authorities, District Development Fund (DDF) and the Department of Roads.
Of late, the situation at Zinara has improved tremendously in terms of good corporate governance and plugging leakages. Zinara is now fully accounting for funds collected and is timeously disbursing them to the road authorities.
The only challenge causing late disbursements of funds by Zinara to some road authorities is the late submission of acquittals by these authorities. Corporate governance demands that all management posts with acting personnel be filled by substantive personnel soon since the selection process has been completed.
Given the urgent need to ensure a good road infrastructure network in the country, PPPs are also being strongly encouraged and pursued, and to date some roads have been set aside for PPPs. These include Beitbridge-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls, Mvurwi-Guruve-Kanyemba and Gweru-Zvishavane-Rutenga-Boli-Sango.
More feasibility studies are underway for other roads so that they can be bankable projects for private sector participation. These feasibility studies will go a long way in removing investor inertia towards road development in the country. New entrepreneurs, especially the youth and women with the requisite capacity, are encouraged to participate in tenders for road maintenance and rehabilitation.
Support given by development partners and donors towards the construction of physical infrastructure in the country has been helpful. Government commends the support by institutions such as JICA in the rehabilitation and upgrading of sections of the Makuti-Chirundu Road. Development partners and donors also gave a lot of support for road rehabilitation after Cyclone Idai.
To date, the restoration of most roads and bridges in the south-eastern part of the country have been completed or is near completion. It is Government’s hope and belief that the approach of these institutions in terms of infrastructure development in Zimbabwe will continue and not be affected by sanctions that are already bedevilling the nation.
The continued engagement and re-engagement efforts by the President are going a long way in changing perceptions of the country by international partners and investors. These efforts need to be complemented by all institutions through continuous engagement in advocacy campaigns beyond our borders in order to attract foreign investment.
Furthermore, the thrust of the New Dispensation towards road infrastructure development is also to vigorously pursue inward- looking initiatives including but not limited to awarding tenders to local contractors. This will create employment, curtail national debt and also directly and indirectly benefit other sectors of the economy.
In line with the devolution thrust, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development is well represented at provincial levels and has highly qualified and experienced engineers.
The engineers are well capacitated to work even at village level. The presence of these engineers at grassroots levels is key in the policy formulation process and prioritisation of projects that benefit the masses given the resource constraints.
Road construction projects are ongoing and recent developments along Harare-Beitbridge Highway where five local contractors were engaged to construct and rehabilitate the road to SATTC standards last year, are efforts by the President aimed at increasing Zimbabwe’s competitive advantage.
The project was allocated financial support to the tune of $1 billion and has already started in earnest. The plan to rehabilitate this highway started long ago and a number of tenders were awarded but failed to take off in 2002, 2016 and 2018. These tenders were awarded to ZimHighways (2002), Geiger International (2016) and Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Corporation (2018).
One of the thrusts of the New Dispensation is to ensure urgent completion of the rehabilitation of trunk roads as they are of economic importance. The completion of the Harare-Beitbridge road will attract traffic that has been diverted to Vic Falls-Kazungula road and also facilitate intra-trade within the country.
To further expedite the rehabilitation of this project on the North-South Corridor, more local contractors will be engaged soon to start rehabilitation of the Harare-Chirundu road.
Other road projects that will significantly improve the efficiency of our transport system and are vital in the supply chain in the medium term are Mbudzi Traffic Interchange as well as the Mabvuku Overpass.
In order to achieve this task timeously, some activities like procurement should be decentralised in order to be efficient and preserve the value of funds disbursed.
There is also a need for a change in attitude and work ethic for all concerned so as to attain our planned targets including achievement of Vision 2030.
Given Zimbabwe’s strategic location as a gateway to Southern Africa, a good road infrastructure network further enhances trade in SADC and COMESA regions. A good road network with dry port facilities and efficient soft infrastructure should be integrated, in the medium term, with Government and/or private sector investment in sea transport or having partnerships with already established sea transport companies.
Honourable Architect Joel Biggie Matiza is Zimbabwe’s Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development.