HARDLY halfway through its first five-year term, the so-called new dispensation has fared dismally on the ease of doing business front with two major projects that could have really shored up its profile having fallen through.

First to bite the dust was the US$400 million Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG)/Transnet deal that had been flaunted as the best thing that had visited the rundown National Railways of Zimbabwe this century. Government cooked up some very funny excuses to cancel the deal and has retendered it in a move that has seriously dented its image.

Now we hear the same government has aborted the dualisation of the 971-kilometre Chirundu-Harare-Beitbridge highway and has opted to instead widen it, starting with the 580-km Harare-Beitbridge Highway stretch. Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza tells us that government has “decided to start by upgrading the road as a first phase, and … then go to the second phase which is dualisation. We expect work to upgrade and widen to be complete by 2023. We are using local contractors and we expect to create employment during construction.

We are using local engineers who are just as competent. The road will be 12,5 metres wide and we have five different companies working on segments of the road. We resorted to local companies to save foreign currency.”

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While Matiza tries hard to sound meek in the hope of making us believe that he and his colleagues have made a very logical and prudent decision, the decision is again a serious indictment on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime. Matiza is taking everyone, including the business community, for fools. Was this project being sponsored by government or whoever was given the tender was responsible for raising the funds to dualise the road? Were we not made to understand that the highway would be dualised on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) or build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) arrangement?

BOT or BOOT project financing means that a private entity receives a concession from the private or public sector to finance, design, construct, own and operate a facility stated in the concession contract; in this case it was the Chirundu-Harare-Beitbridge Road.

According to the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe (IDBZ) – albeit the website post being a little outdated, the 971-km project toll involved “the dualisation, upgrading and tolling of the highway.

The road will be divided into three sections namely; Beitbridge-Harare: 570km (8 toll plazas), Harare-Chirundu: 342km (6 toll plazas) and Harare ring road: 59km (3 toll plazas)”. So what foreign currency is Matiza saving when the entire project was supposed to have been sponsored by the company that won the tender? Should we remind Matiza that the same government cancelled, in May last year, a tender to Geiger International to dualise the same highway after it failed to raise the funds to do the job? Should we also remind the minister that the company that was later given the tender to dualise the highway, Chinese firm Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Group Limited, told us only last month that it was still mobilising funds for the road? So who, in God’s name, is Matiza trying to fool?

If government was serious about all these projects, the highway would have to be completed by 2022. But now because of their tomfoolery the project and half of it for that matter, will be done in time for the 2023 general elections. Some of these things are simply not adding up. It appears the highway will now be used as campaign material for the 2023 general elections. Can government be serious.