AT least US$24 billion is required to revamp Zimbabwe’s antiquated road network, which has outlived its lifespan by more than four decades.
The figure, based on the US$206 million it cost the country to resurface the Plumtree-Mutare 820km highway, is six times more than the country’s US$4 billion National Budget.
The treacherous roads, riddled with potholes and ragged sharp edges, have long been condemned as death traps accounting for most of the road traffic accidents that claim at least five lives per day, injuring dozens, according to 2015 statistics from the Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe.
According to Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) acting chief executive officer, Moses Juma, at least 80 percent of the country’s 97 000km road network is obsolete and requires urgent rehabilitation to reduce road carnage, which accounts for over 2 000 deaths annually.
The rehabilitation of roads could also see the country save millions of dollars per year in reduced damage to vehicles and loss of goods through road traffic accidents.
Observers argue that an improved road infrastructure could act as a major investment magnet given that Zimbabwe is a major trading route for Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.
Linking the SADC region and other sub-Saharan African countries to the continent’s biggest economy, South Africa, Zimbabwe occupies a critical position that requires it to have state-of-the-art infrastructure, including roads.
Juma said with the terrible state of the country’s roads it meant that the amount of money required to rehabilitate them to international standards would be enormous. He, however, could not disclose the full estimated amount the parastatals would require, saying it would be known only after an extensive road sector survey is completed later this year.
But by simply using the US$206 million spent in resurfacing the 820km Plumtre-Mutare highway, the country would require at least US$24 billion if it is to fully rehabilitate the entire 97 000km that make up Zimbabwe’s road network.
Juma said at present, Zimbabwe’s roads “have died three times”.
“The challenge is that our roads are now too old. They have outlived their design life. Ordinarily, a road is designed to last for 20 years, after which it will require reconstruction, but most of our roads are now between 50-60 years old. So we can say they have died three times. They are due for rehabilitation, so this should be one of our major activities for 2016,” Juma said.
ZINARA is currently hoping to raise money through its different mechanisms, including increasing the number of tollgates, in order to finance road rehabilitation.
“The revenue we collect is principally channelled towards funding road maintenance. ZINARA has adopted a results-based management system in line with our vision to be the leading road manager for the development of a world class road network,” he said.
ZINARA gets much of its revenue from toll fees, road user fees, fuel levy, transit fees, overload levy, road access fees and presumptive tax collected by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.
Last year, Cabinet approved an additional 10 toll plazas to be erected on the highways, turning a deaf ear to heavy consternation from an already heavily taxed motoring public.
The previous year, government, which also unilaterally raised toll fees by over 100 percent in some cases, has reportedly shelved urban tolling plans due to public pressure.
ZINARA has also met stiff resistance from local authorities who control most of urban roads, especially in Harare where city fathers last year accused the government of clandestinely trying to take over the lucrative central business district parking business.
In a bid to attract both local and foreign investment in road infrastructure, Juma said, ZINARA was seeking an International Standards Organisation (ISO) certification.
“We are tabling before the board plans for ISO certification, which we hope will elevate us to international level in terms of quality. This is now at an advanced stage. We are working out the logistics with the Standards Association of Zimbabwe so that we can go through the process. I think this will also enhance revenue collection and efficiency,” he said.
ZINARA board chairman, Albert Mugabe, noted that it was imperative for government to open up the road sector to both local and foreign investment if the situation was to improve.
“We need to open it up so that there can be strong local participation in road investment. Preliminary indications are that we will have strong subscription from both local and foreign investors as well as from Zimbabweans in the Diaspora to participate in funding the road network improvement,” he said.
Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister, Jorum Gumbo, implored ZINARA to adhere to its core business of prioritising road maintenance.
“I wish to make the point that the expectation of government is to see that the bulk of funds collected by ZINARA is being channelled towards the rehabilitation and maintenance of the national road network. They should therefore ask themselves this question: Is ZINARA directing funds collected towards road maintenance or to other secondary matters totally unrelated to its mandate?” he queried.
The motoring public has also previously raised similar concerns.
ZINARA is under instruction to reserve 30 percent of disbursements for routine maintenance and the remainder for periodic maintenance of roads.
Critics, however, argue that if ZINARA was adhering to such principles, potholes would by now have been a thing of the past, given that it annually collects as much as US$250 million in toll fees alone.
This is enough to rehabilitate the 583-kilometre Harare-Beitbridge road, which is in desperate need of reconstruction.
The highway was commissioned in 1960 and is yet to undergo any major rehabilitation despite it being one of Africa’s busiest major roads, carrying between 2 000 to 5 000 vehicles daily.
The highway connects Zimbabwe and South Africa to countries such as Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique and beyond.
As the economy continues in tailspin, government funding on roads has been very minimal.
For example, only US$206 million was allocated for road rehabilitation in the past two years against a demand of US$2billion per year.
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