EDITORIAL COMMENT: Road contractors must raise the bar

Source: EDITORIAL COMMENT: Road contractors must raise the bar | The Herald

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Road contractors must raise the bar

The major road programme under the Second Republic has been moving forward rapidly, building on what had already been done earlier since 2018 and largely accelerating the progress.

Financing has been two-fold. 

First, the challenges at Zinara was sorted out by bringing in a new board and new management with the Government cracking the whip to ensure that the new set up performed its job properly. So the vehicle licence fees have been raised and the toll fees collected with Zinara spending a very modest proportion on administration so that the overwhelming bulk goes where it is supposed to go, paying for roadworks.

It was not quite an instant process. 

The police and the Auditor General discovered some staff were still messing around, although this time generally the more junior staff manning a few tollgates and so there was still some heavy lifting to be done to make sure everyone understood that there were no exceptions. 

But very largely Zinara is now functioning properly and as with all organisations there is nothing wrong to making checks and ensuring that it continues to do this.

If everything had been working properly for decades and Zinara collecting the money and the road authorities had been applying the money and keeping maintenance up to date and extending the road system when needed, Zinara funds would be fine. 

This was the theory. But Zinara was short and the authorities were variable: the Department of Transport on major highways, the District Development Fund on some rural roads and the urban and rural district councils on most roads in their areas.

But we know that first some councils, especially urban councils, were not tackling their work instantly as the money arrived. 

So the Government had to step in for a major catch-up programme, the Emergency Road Repair Programme Phase 2. This needed the budget to be doubled, with a large intervention by the central Government through the Treasury. 

It also needed a way t move into municipalities, which are supposed to be self-governing by declaring urban roads a state of disaster, a fairly accurate description.

While the programme has gone well Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development Felix Mhona has found that some of the contractors hired to do the work have not really been up to scratch, despite the initial clearance by the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe. 

Proper tender procedures were followed, but when you get a large number of companies involved there will be the odd one who should not have been hired.

But Minister Mhona is not just sitting back. He has made it clear that the dud contractors must fix their work and if necessary they will be excluded from all future work, being black listed in fact. 

This is the right way to deal with the problem, along with trying to get those who missed to pay back. A lot of Zimbabwean businesses have done well out of the programme, creating jobs and building their businesses. Some have excellent reputations, with those using the new or repaired roads getting to know and admire the ones who can do first class work.

This again is something the Second Republic insists upon. While the private sector will lead economic growth and while the Government is quite ready to support the private sector, there are no special favours. You do your work properly and well or someone else will do it. These are the standards set in private enterprise, and there is no reason for the Government to accept anything less than the best, especially as it is using public money to pay for the work done. So the Minister is following the right path.

There are some other improvements that can be made in the road programme. 

In some urban areas, as this applies particularly in Harare, stands were allocated before the development was done. 

This is being regularised now with the title-deed schemes so that the stand owners have security of tenure and have an asset that they can use to help finance the development work.

But the road system in many of these areas is appalling, with many rural district councils having lot better gravel roads on their side routes. 

This is because many rural district councils have spent some of their devolution funds on buying a grader or a grader and a truck so they can go down the side roads regularly and at least make they passable.

Urban councils need to do the same. There is nothing particularly wrong with gravel roads, or even just graded tracks, and a regularly-graded track will be a lot better than a badly made tarred suburban road that is not maintained. 

Grading can sort out the gullies and the pot hole. They can even put in some storm water drainage, something Zimbabweans never seem to think about until a road becomes a river and washes away the road.

These sort of graded tracks are long way from Vision 2030, but they will allow the roads to be used in these new areas for a couple of years while the development is organised and done. 

At the same time in many of these side roads, both tarred and gravel, the homeowners can start doing something about maintaining the storm water drains. 

People used to do this as a matter of course and it was a rule that you had to buy the culvert pipe to put under your driveway. Now many people create good looking gardens along their verge and fill in the drain, which looks good until there is heavy rain.

It does not take much time to each month to maintain the storm water drains and it makes a huge difference, both to the minimising of damage to suburban roads and to keeping storm water out of houses if you are on the downhill side of a road.

A lot of the road fixing has to be done through the emergency programme, but there is still a lot that local councils can do and householders do not have to sit back.

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