Harare-Beitbridge road dualisation under threat

The Harare-Beitbridge road dualization project in Zimbabwe is at risk of being cancelled if contractors do not start work within the coming few weeks; amid indications that there are new senior government officials that are pushing for the collapse of the deal to pave way for their own preferred companies.

The US $1bn project which was awarded to an Austrian contractor — Geiger International was officially launched by former president, Robert Mugabe on May 18 2017. However, nine months on, the project has not yet kicked off.

According to government sources, the project delayed is intended to give room to some top state actors who have friends in China to push for the cancellation of the tender, saying it was “expensive” and had taken long to start.

Additionally, the government officials, are putting pressure on Transport Minister Jorum Gumbo to deliver on the project as well as engage the international company on downward review of the terms of the deal.

Deal cancellation plan

However, Gumbo denied that there have been behind the scene moves to have the deal cancelled and awarded to a Chinese consortium. He further confirms the new administration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa had put the project in its 100 day plan and wanted it to start “as soon as yesterday”.

“We are not going to cancel the tender and no one has given anyone an ultimatum, but we have just listed the project as one of the key issues that we are dealing with in the 100 days plan as a priority,” Gumbo said.

However, government sources told The Standard that the project was extensively discussed in Cabinet and had become a topical issue with ministers like Obert Mpofu and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga apparently unhappy with the deal and the pace at which it was moving.

“There is a feeling among some ministers that Geiger was not doing well or [was not] up to standard. The pace as well as the terms of the deal is also not pleasing to some ministers who think it would be expensive for Zimbabwe.

The truth is that these ministers have their preferred people from China whom they want to undertake the project, definitely for personal gains,” said a senior staffer in the office of the president and cabinet.

The source said, during the last cabinet meeting Mpofu, who is Home Affairs minister allegedly said “it is a very expensive project and more talks need to be undertaken to review the interest rate and the repayment time-frame,” the source said.

Another source said Gumbo told the meeting that since the deal had already been signed and work was underway, it was impossible for him to cancel it, given the legal challenges the country was bound to face as well the cost to the country.

Mugabe officiated the ground-breaking ceremony that was held at Chaka Business Centre, where he called the highway project “an economic game-changer” with a multiplier effect for the economy.

The Harare-Beitbridge highway is the country’s busiest and most economically significant in the country as it is part of the north-south corridor that directly links landlocked Zimbabwe and Zambia with the Indian Ocean ports of Durban and Richards Bay in South Africa.

The dualization of the highway would stimulate development for the country and the region at large.

Austrian contractor, Geiger International, was last year awarded the tender for the 580km road, which will be built under the build-operate and transfer model.

Construction was expected to commence after three months of the ground breaking ceremony but until now nothing has happened.

Besides the move to have the main contractor moved, some senior government officials also wanted local companies that had been sub-contracted in the project to be scrapped off and replaced by their preferences with allegations the former first lady, Grace Mugabe had a huge say in the selection process.

Initially the government entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Geiger International in 2012 but due to the absence of a legal framework, the finalization of the deal was delayed until 2016.