The modernisation of major roads, particularly the much-talked about Harare-Beitbridge highway, is gathering pace after Government officials met Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Corporation (AFECC) representatives last week to discuss the company’s preparedness to construct one of Africa’s busiest highways.

Further, Government has short-listed 85 companies to modernise 20 other critical highways, including the Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road, and the Birchenough Bridge. The Bulawayo-Victoria Falls highway has attracted a staggering 16 bidders.

Some of the world’s well-heeled firms short-listed to modernise the highways include China State Engineering Company Limited and China Railway Number 3 Engineering Group.

Government wants the short-listed firms to submit technical and financial proposals for the feasibility study of the upgrading, construction and tolling of the roads and bridges through public private partnerships (PPPs). Deadline for submission of proposals is tomorrow.

In his address at the General Debate of the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly last week, President Mnangagwa reiterated his Government’s desire to modernise roads and other key infrastructure.

“The development and modernisation of our roads, railways, airports, energy and ICT infrastructure is being accelerated in line with our regional and continental quest for enhanced connectivity and integrated infrastructure,” said President Mnangagwa.

Last Wednesday, Deputy Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Advocate Fortune Chasi told The Sunday Mail Business that Government wants the modernisation of the Harare-Beitbridge Highway undertaken as soon as yesterday.

“We are (still) trying to understand the intricacies of existing arrangements and also looking at other possible funding models that will give the country the best deal,” said Adv Chasi.

“Since we came into office, we haven’t spoken to any outsiders concerning that project. We engaged in a process of extracting information from our staff concerning the way forward. But our non-negotiable position is that we want works to begin yesterday; that is what we are working on.

“Our major concern is that works must start as soon as is reasonably practical. We cannot continue to wait and watch when nothing is happening.”

Senior AFECC officials are understood to have met Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Engineer Joel Biggie Matiza, last Thursday and spoke at length about the construction of the Harare-Beitbridge Highway.

Sources close to the meeting said AFECC officials were instructed to go and prepare their proposal.

AFECC came back into the equation after Government cancelled Geiger International’s contract to construct the Harare-Beitbridge Highway following two years of inactivity.

Geiger International had its tender approved by Government in 2015, and commissioned the project in May 2016 at Chatsworth, along the Harare-Masvingo Highway. However, nothing took place, prompting the withdrawal of the contract.

Cabinet then directed AFECC, whose bid had come second to Geiger’s, to review the terms and conditions set out by the Austrian firm. AFECC immediately summoned its technicians to study the project. Sources close to AFECC said the company has since reviewed its position and submitted it to the Ministry of Transport last week. The proposal entails modernisation of the entire highway that cuts across Zimbabwe, from Beitbridge to Chirundu.

“They are now waiting for feedback from Government, but I can tell you that they have agreed to adopt a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) model in the implementation of the Harare-Beitbridge section, which is the first phase of the project.

“They will then adopt EPC (Engineering, Procuring and Construction) and financing model for the Harare-Chirundu section, which will be in the second phase. If that position is accepted, they will go ahead to sign a Framework Agreement, a Concession Agreement and other necessary agreements which are required for such a big project. But on the whole, I see an agreement being struck in the near future because Government wants this project to be implemented soon,” explained the source.

However, it is not yet clear how the project will be undertaken given that there were concerns in the past that dualising the entire 585km highway was not viable considering that only between 2 500 and 3 000 vehicles use the highway daily. Fears are that it will take longer for contractors to recover their investment.

Geiger had estimated the project to cost US$1,7 billion, with the dualisation of the Harare-Beitbridge Highway alone gobbling US$998 million while the cost for the Harare ring-road was pegged at US$300 million. The Harare-Chirundu Road section was estimated to cost US$665 million.

The US$998 million loan for the Harare-Beitbridge section was expected to be repaid over 20 years from toll fees.

Some contractors proposed dualising the Harare to Chivhu section, areas approaching towns and steep gradients, with other sections only being widened. But Adv Chasi said Government had not insisted that it (highway) must be dualised all the way. South Africa’s N1 Highway (Beitbridge to Johannesburg) is only dualised as it approaches towns, just like the Chirundu-Lusaka highway.

While Adv Chasi said he could not say who will win the contract “because we haven’t got to that point at all”, sources believe AFECC will land the project.

AFECC, a Chinese large-scale multi-operational entity set up in 1992, has been one of the top investors in Zimbabwe since the land reform programme. It has constructed the Zimbabwe National Defence University and Longcheng Plaza in Harare, the Golden Peacock Hotel in Mutare, and owns another Golden Peacock Hotel in Harare’s leafy suburb of Borrowdale. The two hotels employ about 170 locals while hundreds more work at Longcheng Plaza.

Other key road projects

Government also wants other investors to construct the Karoi-Binga-Dete road. Four investors have been short-listed for the project. The Mount Darwin-Mukumbura road has attracted one bidder while the Mvurwi-Guruve-Kanyemba road has three companies shortlisted .

China Geo-Engineering Corporation is battling it out with six other firms for the Kwekwe-Nkayi-Lupane road, and is also interested in the Golden Valley-Sanyati-Kuwirirana-Nembudziya road, in which it will contest against Epic Financial LLC.

Ten companies, including China State Construction Engineering Co. Ltd, Masimba Tencraft Prostruct Consortium and China Railway Number 3 Engineering Group, are vying for the Harare-Bindura road. ALW-Team Investments (Pvt) Ltd, owned by Mr Timothy Mncube, a Zimbabwean based in South Africa, is battling it out with two other companies for the Bulawayo-Nkayi road.

Sino Hydro Corporation Ltd is slugging it out with three other companies for the upgrading of the Birchenough Bridge where vehicles going in different directions are now taking turns to pass.

Other roads earmarked for upgrading are Rutenga-Boli-Sango, Bulawayo-Tsholotsho, Buchwa-Rutenga, Mberengwa-West Nicholson, Gwanda-Tuli, Plumtree-Maitengwe, Plumtree-Mphoengs, Murambinda-Birchenough, Bulawayo Airport Road and Beitbridge-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls.

Government said the awarding of tenders shall be limited to one lot per tender “in order to spread and minimise risk of failing to complete the feasibility study”.

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