The Sunday Mail
Dr Joram Gumbo
THE construction of Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu Highway, one of the biggest road infrastructure projects to be undertaken in post-Independence Zimbabwe, takes off soon following the signing of an implementation agreement between Government and China Harbour Engineering Company and Geiger International of Austria.
The Sunday Mail’s Chief Reporter Kuda Bwititi spoke to Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo about the multi-million-dollar project. This is Dr Gumbo in his own words.
We signed a framework agreem
ent which is the overarching pact for the deal. We are now getting into the nitty-gritties of the deal.
As we speak my office is a hive of activity as discussions are ongoing between officials from my Ministry and the companies – China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and Geiger International.
We are discussing how the projects will move. What we have done so far are estimations, but now we are getting into the finer details and the specifics of how this project will be implemented.
The Beitbridge to Harare section of the road will be handled by Geiger through a (public-private-partnership) while the Harare-Chirundu road and the ring road are going to be handled by CHEC.
Very soon we will sign the construction agreement as well as the financial agreement. We will also sign an agreement to have an Escrow account.
CHEC, which is the contractor, is almost ready because they have signed a new finance agreement for Harare-Chirundu Road loan which will be pegged at two percent interest.
With CHEC we already have documents and we are expecting Geiger the financier’s documents next week. Once these documents are ready we will put them before Cabinet, then Parliament for approval.
We hope that all these processes will be over by October.
As we speak, we are doing land ownership identification and acquisition. We are also doing gravel location as well as preliminary engineering designs.
We are already doing this and we hope that it will be done in the next six months.
Both the contractor and the financier are hopeful that the whole project should be completed in two and a half years.
We are going to segment the road into eight sections which will be divided between Beitbridge to Harare and Harare to Chirundu.
So there will be eight individual operations going on and these will be connected to become one road, when the project is complete.
As part of the implementation agreement, one thing that we have agreed on is that we will get 40 percent of all work to be done by local companies. These local companies will work together with CHEC and Geiger.
This means we are going to have a good number of local engineers being part of the project.
Besides the local engineers, we will also have engineers from the diaspora. This is all because we want to have the best minds and expertise working on this project.
You will remember that we have some of our best engineers abroad so we want to have them on this project so that we can achieve the best we can.
I note that people could be concerned about the costing of the deal, given that in previous circumstances some projects have cost much larger than they are worth and Government has faced with embarrassing questions that it should have done things differently.
What I want to assure the nation is that we are going to have a proper bill of quantum to come up with the most appropriate costing of the project.
In terms of the due diligence, we have been meticulously doing our work.
You will recall that on April 18, President Mugabe first announced to the nation that we had finalised the deal in his Independence Day speech. So since then, all that we have been doing is due diligence.
Our due diligence process is going to be done meticulously. We have put the necessary mechanisms to ensure that we do not make any mistakes because there are several teams at the administrative process of Government who are working on this deal.
Firstly, we have a team at the ministry which is working with the officials from the two companies.
The team from my Ministry also receives guidance from a number of experts, for example, a transactional advisor from the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe. There is also another expert from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. We also have a Cabinet Committee.
So I am confident that in terms of due diligence, everything is in order.
Our expectation is that between October and November, we hope that all processes, Parliament approval, Cabinet agreements would have been done. Then we will have a ground breaking ceremony after which site mobilisation will be done in November.
Between December-January, we are expecting to do bridge construction as well as substructure exploration drilling.
Part of the agreement which is in the pipeline is that at least 40 percent of all the work will be given to locals.
There will be adverts that will be put in the paper for companies to apply for all the services which will be required. These adverts will state what needs to be done by local companies.
All these jobs will be advertised and people will have the chance to participate. We have heard rumours of people saying that if they want to be part of the 40 percent of the local quota they should pay bribes.
Let Zimbabweans not be fooled. There will be no underhand dealings whatsoever.
I repeat publicly that when the time comes when we would have finished our agreement we will set out the services which locals can provide and they will get these contracts on merit.
I am excited about this project. It is a project that is not only important for Zimbabwe but for the entire region. Countries such as Zambia, the DRC, and Tanzania are all eagerly awaiting completion of this road.
It is going to make Beitbridge Border Post the busiest border in Southern Arica and indeed one of the busiest on the continent.
There is going to be a reduction in the risk of accidents, which have become common along the old road.
We are hoping to create a lot of employment. We are targeting 120 000 jobs directly as result of the project. On top of the figure of 120 000 there will be more jobs which will be created through downstream industries.
So the economic benefits of his road cannot be underestimated. A lot of revenue will also be brought in through toll fees, transit fees, etc.
We have also noted some of the negative press reports that have sought to portray these two companies in bad night.
Some of the reports are sensational and we can also assume that they seek to drive away these two companies CHEC and Geiger from the country but we are working well with them and we will not be deterred by these reports.