HARARE, Sept 3 (The Source) – The $1.3 billion rehabilitation of Zimbabwe’s busiest and most economically significant highway, linking Harare and border town Beitbridge, is now set to go ahead following an agreement between the government and a consortium initially awarded the contract for the project.
The road has been in use for over 55 years, way beyond its design life of 20 years and is now in an advanced state of disrepair.
In 2003, President Robert Mugabe’s government awarded the Zimhighways Consortium – made up of 14 construction firms including Murray & Roberts, Costain Africa, Kuchi Building Construction, Tarcon, Bitcon, Joina Development Company and Southland Engineers – for the dualisation of the highway.
The project never took off, amid accusations and counter-accusations between government and the consortium. The government said the consortium had failed to prove it had the financial wherewithal to execute the project, while Zimhighways accused government officials of demanding bribes and throwing spanners in its works.
The consortium also accused the government of going behind its back to negotiate a separate deal with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), with which Zimhighways had agreed on a funding plan.
Plans to rehabilitate the road, which records a high number of traffic accidents, have stalled amid the bickering, which got to a head when Zimhighways took the government to court in 2013 as the Mugabe administration moved to award the tender to other contractors, citing the consortium’s failure to execute.
The court case has held back government’s plans to rehabilitate the road, which analysts say should have been given preference ahead of the Plumtree-Bulawayo-Harare-Mutare link, which has been repaired under a $206 million loan from DBSA. The Plumtree-Bulawayo-Harare-Mutare project was executed under Infralink, a consortium made up of the government of Zimbabwe through its road agency Zinara, and DBSA.
The feuding parties have since reached an agreement to drop the court case and clear the way for the rehabilitation of the highway, Zimhighways Consortium announced on Thursday.
“Zimhighways and the Government of Zimbabwe, through the Minister of Finance have agreed as follows: Zimhighways undertakes to withdraw the matter,” the consortium announced in a press statement flighted in the national press and co-signed by Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa.
“The withdrawal of litigation by Zimhighways is to allow the Minister both scope and free hand to initiate and undertake negotiations for an appropriate financing model for, inter alia, the upgrading and dualisation of the Beitbridge/Harare road, free from litigation.”
The consortium said in return, the government had agreed to ensure local contractors, including Zimhighways, would be sub-contracted in the project.