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Controversy, hiccups mar Byo roads rehabilitation programme

MORE often Siphiwe Nyoni marvels at the headlines on local media on the government’s much vaunted drive to transform the country’s ragged roads under the Emergency Roads Rehabilitation Programme (ERRP).

Nyoni, a second year journalism student at a local university, also marvels at the huge amounts that have been occasionally thrown around by the government towards the rehabilitation exercise.

While on paper, the roads will soon be in perfect condition, but one thing boggles her mind as she moves around the city, potholes have remained a common feature in most of the main roads, with some roads under construction having been left halfway.

This is the graphic image of the government’s bankrolled roads programme in the city where the milestones that have been portrayed mainly in the state media, are evidently the opposite of what is prevailing on the ground.

Bulawayo mayor Solomon Mguni is on record audaciously revealing the ugly side of the project where almost all of the contractors awarded the tenders for the project by government are not only from Harare but have allegedly done some shoddy job as well as failing to apply any urgency in the construction process.

“It’s like we are now between a rock and a hard place now, because ordinarily in a devolved state the city will be in charge of its water, sewerage and roads infrastructure and its furniture as well as public transport management.

“Now you wake up to a situation where the road network has been taken over by central government agencies and funding thereof is disbursed direct to contractors procured without city input,” fumed Mguni.

Equally, the residents feel cheated on the widely praised national project.

“Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) is noting that there are some roads that are being rehabilitated like the Masiye Phambili extension from Emakhandeni to Victoria Falls road and Nketha drive to Luveve road intersection and others,” said BPRA secretary for administration Thembelani Dube.

He further explained: “What is worrying the residents of Bulawayo is the contracts awarded to those rehabilitating the roads. It appears most companies from outside Bulawayo were awarded those tenders and they went on to hire their kith and kin from their geographical areas of origin and this has not gone down well with the residents who are questioning such priorities which are a direct contrast to the basics of devolution of power whose pillars are local democracy and involvement, local economies and local development.

“Local development with the appreciation of local democracy, involvement and local economies eventually explodes, as is the case now. The residents are not happy with the end products of the project as potholes continue to appear in parts said to have been covered by the program,” Dube said.

Investigations conducted by this publication revealed that the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA) funds and a percentage of the devolution funds that are due to the city were now being disbursed to third party contractors, something which has not gone down well with the city fathers. 

As such, progress at some roads as Matopos Road, Luveve Road, Siyephambili Drive, Fife Street, among others that were taken over by the Department of State Roads and CMED have been clear evidence of the slow pace if not failure for the much hyped rehabilitation exercise.

One of the contractors from Harare who refused to be named for professional reasons outlined their shortfall in the project resulting in sustained delays.

“To be honest as much as people in Bulawayo may want to blame the contractors regardless of their origin, the fact is that we are operating in a tough macro-economic environment where exchange rate fluctuations are just abnormal. 

“The worst thing is that we are being paid in RTGS, yet all our requirements are paid in forex. Sadly at the same time RTGS is disbursed to us after several delays. Obviously the money would have lost value due to inflation hence we can’t cope up with the demands. Talking of fuel, there is no RTGS fuel availed to us,” so that is why many of us pulled out and abandoned sites because this is completely against the business dictates,” the contractor said.

He added: “The other thing we have failed to cope with is the demand for premix as there is only one supplier in the southern region. So the demand is very high which has resulted in delays.”

On allegations of employing people from outside, the contractor said: “For those menial jobs we have been taking locals here and there but for specialised jobs we have our own team that we already have as a company.”

Surprisingly, the contractor’s claims were backed by Town Clerk Christopher Dube in a recent council report.

“The programme was supposed to have been completed by the end of last year (2021) however progress had been hindered by challenges which were beyond council’s control. Contractors had delayed going on site resulting in price increases on materials.

Others had pulled out of their contracts citing delays in payments. Some suppliers had also demanded upfront payment for their services. Fluctuation of the local currency and lack of fuel in local currency also stalled progress,” Dube said.

However, in a twist of events, Provincial Affairs minister Judith Ncube recently took a swipe at the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) for failing to utilise more than $625 million allocated to them for road rehabilitation in the city using only 10 percent in the process.

“I am quite disturbed by the presentation made by the council engineer. From the report, there isn’t anything to talk about. Council got 10 percent of the allocated money in April, but nothing was done in terms of acquittals.

“If you are failing to utilise just 10 percent as Bulawayo yet we are the second largest city, then we have a serious problem. As Minister of State for Bulawayo, I am not happy with this development,” Ncube fumed.

However, the Town Clerk defended the local authority’s failure to utilize the funds.

“Part of the funds which were allocated to the council were not utilised because of challenges experienced. Council could not spend the money because of procurement issues. Contractors had expected an advance payment but Zinara had advised that there was no advance payment. 

“The contracts awarded were never completed and the council could not produce a certificate of payment. It was on this background that the council decided to defer the projects. Council was advised to rescind its decision that deferred the programme because the roads rehabilitation programme was a government programme and council was only an implementing agent,” Dube noted.

In further evidence of a fiasco in the city’s roads rehabilitation programme, a leaked internal report from the engineering department revealed that the city fathers were not pleased with the progress of the project which they felt was being imposed upon them by the government.

The report further shows that the contractors abandoned at least 13 roads out of 65 major roads under unclear circumstances.

“Under the ERRP2 programme, in line with the provision of statutory instrument 47 of 2021, the ministry of transport was instructed to take over some roads from the city of Bulawayo. The takeover means that the ministry will clearly define the scope of works, undertake the procurement process and implement the works.

“The letter received dated 27 April 2021, stated that the ministry shall be responsible for all pavement and surface water drainage works on the taken over roads. However, the roads are now in bad shape and require urgent attention. The roads are now impassable, littered with potholes, leading to a decline in road safety and high vehicle operating costs,” reads the report that was signed by acting director of engineering services Sikhumbuzo Ncube.

Contacted for comment, Provincial Roads engineer for Bulawayo and Matabeleland North, Engineer Stephen Kamutema said: “You have to go through the Permanent Secretary for Devolution and Provincial Affairs. But you can put your questions on email. We do not do things on the phone,” he said. 

By the time of going to press, Kamutema had not responded to the questions emailed to him.

According to the latest council report, the ERRP2 allocation for the year 2022 was ZWL338, 232,413.70. 

“The disbursements of the funds for the ERRP2 were carried out by ZINARA on quarterly basis and on submission of Interim Payment Certificates (IPCs) for completed works.

“For the utilization of ERRP2 funds refer to Council minutes of April 6, 2022. Three contracts were awarded for overlay and reseal works under the ERRP2   during the year 2021 to private contractors while the in-house teams concentrated on preparatory works (i.e pothole patching) and overlay works. The ongoing works were carried over to 2022,” reads the report from the environmental management and engineering services committee.

At least 65 major roads across Bulawayo are earmarked for rehabilitation under the ERRP2 at an approximate cost of $625 million. 

Some of the roads to be rehabilitated using the Zinara funds include Fairbridge Way (Philips to Cecil Drive), Huggins Road (Luveve Road to Police) Woodville Park, Luveve 5 Road, Maduma Dr (Intemba to S J Ngwenya Shops) and Murchison Road where the council is set to conduct overlays and reconstruction.

The city was last year allocated more than $625 million for the rehabilitation of its estimated road network covering 2 460km..

BCC is on record saying that 70 percent of its road network has outlived its lifespan hence it requires about US$700 million to fix the roads.

ZIMBABWE Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) programmes manager John Maketo said they were aware of the road fiasco in Bulawayo and have come across such reports during their Constituency Indabas conducted in May 2022 where contractors from outside Bulawayo were awarded tenders to rehabilitate roads in the city.

“During the constituency Indaba held for Nkulumane residents, the major issues that emerged were the poor workmanship on roads that had so far been rehabilitated under the programme, lack of transparency in the whole process, with tenders to fix the roads being awarded by central government while the process is not transparent to the locals. It was also noted that there is a communication gap between the residents, the local authority and central government in the decision making process,” he said.

Maketo said as ZIMCODD they will always champion transparency and accountability when it comes to the use of public funds especially for infrastructural development projects.

“Active involvement of residents in developmental processes within their communities should be prioritised, the communities should be kept abreast and should stand to benefit economically from such programmes. The major expectation when it comes to devolution is to have local tiers  of government adhering to the concept of good governance anchored on transparency, accountability, efficiency and effectiveness , responsiveness, inclusivity, participation and consensus oriented,” Maketo said.

Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) executive director Tafadzwa Chikumbu bemoaned the failure by the government to observe the principle of devolution.

“Everything happening in our local authorities should be happening through a clear devolution structure as defined in chapter 14 of the constitution.

 “There are certain entities and institutional provisions …guided by a devolution framework then they get resources and implement as independent entities as local authorities,” Chikumbu said.

He added: “But in our case the government declares a state of emergency on our roads, some of which are link roads but still on a particular road. If we believe that we do have a local structure, called a local authority feeding into a national process, it should have been ideal for the government to leave some for local authorities.”

He said the centralization of procurement by the government has worsened corruption in the public sector.

“The bulk of corruption at public entities takes place at procurement level because it’s through procurement that billions of dollars are churned out, then people benefit at the expense of public service delivery.

“So central government has been preying on procurement of certain services in a way where they give out resources but detect to local authorities who to procure certain services from. This is contrary to the principles of devolution, because with devolution you devolve money, administrative powers, you devolve everything, yet for the government they devolve resources but retain the administrative power in terms of public procurement,” Chikumbu said.

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