The Government has opened fresh negotiations with another firm for the dualisation of the Harare-Beitbridge Highway after cutting ties with an Austrian firm, Geiger International, which has not yet started the $1 billion rated project over two years after clinching the contract.
The latest development comes after President Mnangagwa announced in April during a State visit to China that Cabinet had resolved to withdraw the Geiger tender after continuously failing to pool the required funds to undertake the project.
Working on legal counsel from the Attorney-General, Advocate Prince Machaya, that the contract provided for a 60-day period to effect the termination, Government proceeded to stop the Austrian firm.
Zimbabwean officials say Geiger, which has remained mum since termination of its contract, has no basis for suing the Government as it had taken all necessary legal steps before cancelling the tender.
This means any attempts by Geiger to approach the courts would be a waste of time as chances of success are next to nothing.
Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo, told Business Weekly on Monday that Geiger proved beyond reasonable doubt its inability to mobilise funds for the project.
Dr Gumbo said Government took the decision to terminate the deal upon realising that there was no way Geiger would deliver the road project by 2019 as stipulated by the contract.
“The Government has already cut-off relations with Geiger. The contract is no more and we are now negotiating with another company,” said Dr Gumbo.
“Geiger is cannot sue us; we have two years after giving them the contract and they have done nothing. According to the agreement, they were supposed to have started work and finish the road by 2019.
“They had given us three years to finish the job (and) they just did ground-breaking and up to now they have not done anything. They are holding us at ransom.”
Dr Gumbo could not be drawn into revealing the identity of the firm the Government is talking with, for fear of jeopardising the negotiations.
The company’s name would be disclosed in due course, he said.
There are several firms that have expressed interest in securing the contract and speculation is rife that a Chinese company might land the project.
Said Dr Gumbo; “As Government, we had given them (Geiger) the required period of 60 days after the expiry of 180 days. According to the agreement they were supposed to start work within 180 days and they did not and we waited for two years.
“After that we gave them another 60 days and have not done anything. So who do they blame? We have followed the law and we have followed the agreement and there is a breach of the agreement so we divorced.”
More PPPs on way
Dr Gumbo said private-public-partnerships (PPPs) are the way to go if the country was to develop its infrastructure.
Securing viable PPPs have previously been a challenge for the country due to sanctions imposed by the West.
However, after President Mnangagwa committed to the re-engagement exercise, and opened the country for foreign businesses, many international firms are reconsidering Zimbabwe as a safe investment destination.
Dr Gumbo said the response by companies keen to engage in PPPs has been overwhelming.
But many firms want the watershed July 30 harmonised elections to be concluded before putting pen to paper.
President Mnangagwa has called on citizens to ensure the polls are free, fair and credible.
However, following a few success stories such as the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (ZINARA) and a technology firm, Univern Enterprise, The Government feels PPPs can still yield quick returns for the country.
The Government has since advertised more trunk roads and major bridges to be contracted under the PPP arrangement.
“I have advertised for a number of roads; Harare ring road, Harare-Nyamapanda, Bulawayo-Victoria Falls, that is the model that I think will assist me as a ministry on roads.”
Other roads being considered are Victoria Falls-Kazungula, Mvurwi-Guruve, Angwa-Kanyemba, Rutenga-Bolisango, Kwekwe-Nyayi-Lupane, Birchenough Bridge, Victoria Falls Bridge, Murambinda, Mberengwa-West Nicholson; Rutenga-Buchwa, Bulawayo-Tsholotsho; Bulawayo-Nkayi, Dete-Binga, Brunapeg-Maphisa and Beitbridge-Chicualacuala among others.
“We have advertised airports for PPPs and railway lines. PPPs are the way to go. A lot of companies that yesterday were not interested in talking to us have now shown their interest.
“They are just waiting for our elections to be done in July. If the elections are peaceful they will come. There has been a lot of interest from companies to venture into PPPs.”
Major bridge set for construction
Most major bridges countrywide have outlived their lifespan while others have succumbed to harsh weather conditions such as cyclones.
This has resulted in most bridges requiring major facelift, but resources have been a major constraint.
Birchenough Bridge is very old and Government has resolved to construct a new one.
“We have already done our feasibility study and it requires $40 million and there are companies that are interested in constructing that one.
“The Victoria Falls Bridge, because of traffic and that it is now over 100 years, it needs replacement, though it is still usable. Since we are dualising the road and there is a lot of developments taking place in the northern countries, Zambia, DRC, Tanzania, we want to have many avenues.
“In case of any disaster, we must have many avenues. We do not want to hold onto traffic. If you go to Victoria Falls now there is a lot of traffic that is lined up to cross. We want these corridors assist in decongesting traffic,” he said.
Dr Gumbo said there are no costs attached now because the Government wanted to have feasibility studies done first, adding the companies that were coming would be asked to carry out their feasibility studies too.