HomeOpinion & AnalysisAirport Road project now an eyesore

Airport Road project now an eyesore

I have always had lots of questions to ask President Robert Mugabe if given the opportunity to interview him. Because it’s highly unlikely I will ever get the chance, in this column I ask him the simplest question of them all.

From the Editor’s Desk by Nevanji Madanhire

Mr President, as you are driven to the airport either to receive foreign dignitaries, as you did last week to welcome Malawian President Joyce Banda, or on any one of your trips abroad, have you ever asked yourself what’s happening to that little stretch of road popularly known as Airport Road but recently christened Joshua Nkomo Express?

The Airport road under construction
The Airport road under construction

Zimbabweans are interested in that road for many reasons. One of them is that it is our visitors’ entry into, not only our beautiful capital Harare, but also into our beautiful country. That little stretch of road — only about 10 km long — is so important to the country, it almost defines our nationhood. That is the reason why the Independence Arc was erected on it.

When the first clod of earth was shovelled, the road was supposed to be completed in time for the Fifa World Cup that was held in South Africa in 2010. It had been hoped that the football showcase would bring a flood of visitors to Zimbabwe to visit our tourist resorts. Almost five years down the line, the road is still the eyesore that it has become.

Now and then one sees earth-moving equipment on site but no one is deceived. One only has to imagine what regular travellers to this country must think of us as a nation. They must think Zimbabweans — that is all of us — are a bunch of lazy bones that can’t finish projects they begin. They are justified in thinking that way.

New visitors will already have a bad opinion of the country as they roll into the city; every other little problem they will encounter in the city — such as potholes on the roads and the litter strewn all over the streets — will only buttress the opinion created by the road project.

A report in this paper last year (Dualisation of Airport Road lags behind, November 18 2012) raised the same question as to why the construction of this road doesn’t seem to end.

The report highlighted that Augur Investments (Pvt) Limited, an Estonian-registered company, had been working on the 10-km project for four years, but there had not been any meaningful development while other road construction projects of similar magnitude or even bigger, showed remarkable progress.

We cited as an example the dualisation of the Harare-Mutare and Plumtree-Mutare roads, which only started the year before but were fast taking shape.

Augur Investments chief executive, Mike van Blerk told The Standard that construction of the Airport Road would take longer because the project was “complicated”.

“The Airport Road is actually a project formulated in 1964 as part of the city council’s master plan aimed at erecting new structures and dualisation of the road so it entails complexity of implementation in its entirety,” he said.

But earlier in the year another Augur Investments spokesperson had told the world everything was progressing well (Augur to inject US$12 million into Airport Road, The Herald January 25 2012).

“Things are progressing well, so far expenditure for materials used is about US$10 million and this year we will inject US$12 million towards construction of the road,” Augur Investments representative Ken Sharpe told government news agency Ziana.

“We hope that by March we will have diverted traffic onto the new road so that we can resurface the old road.”

Now more than a year on, little progress has been made.

Van Blerk sang a different tune towards the end of the year. He told The Standard there was need to build structures such as bridges and flyovers which take
longer to put up. He said dualisation of the Harare-Mutare road was easier than the Airport Road because it had a clear corridor.

“Without a corridor running from the airport gates to the city centre, it’s a whole lot complicated. This involves constructing a whole new corridor projected to cost US$68 million, with a unique technical design in its scope for the current year,” he said.

The varied explanations coming from Augur Investments surely must raise eyebrows in all the high places. People must have begun to ask what the nature of their tender was, if they ever went to tender. What did they tender to construct say, at what cost and in what time frame?

The Standard report revealed the awarding of the project was done without going to tender. Harare City Council in 2008 signed an agreement with Augur Investments under which the company would dualise, extend and develop the road into a highway with high-rise flyovers and bridges.

A caretaker council appointed by Local Government, Urban and Rural Development minister Ignatiuos Chombo signed the agreement with Augur Investments to revamp the road under which the latter would finance the design and construction of the highway.

The project was valued at US$80 million, with 10% of the total figure being paid in cash and the remainder in land, which council would provide to the company.

As part of the deal, Augur Investments received 733,9 hectares in stands dotted around Harare. One such stand is in Borrowdale where a shopping mall is supposedly under construction. The mall ground-breaking ceremony was presided over by Vice-President Joice Mujuru. It is touted to be, upon completion, the biggest such
structure in Africa outside South Africa.

The Airport Road debacle brings to the fore the whole question of transparency. Let’s begin with the simplest show of transparency. All over the world companies that build roads are proud enough to erect billboards on site to show who they are. Even China Gantsu, the Chinese road construction company, had billboards on
the bad roads they built!

If a company wins a project in a non-transparent manner it becomes difficult to supervise it because there is no written down (forgive the pun) roadmap. There are no benchmarks and timeframes to follow and the cost of the project keeps on soaring to high heaven.

If it’s not too late already, President Mugabe should institute a commission of inquiry into the Airport Road debacle with a view to correcting whatever went wrong with this project which is fast becoming a monument to everything that is wrong with our system of governance. He should also feel pity for the voters
living along the road who have suffered lots of inconvenience because of the unending project.

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