Below is the Full Statement by Elias Chipimo Jr, president of the National Restoration Party (NAREP)
Two days ago the nation witnessed televised scenes of the Republican President reprimanding civil engineering consultant Mr. Levy Zulu of Zulu Burrow for “delays” in implementing the Chirundu phase of the Patriotic Front’s “Link 8,000 Project”. He was in the company of, among others, his former campaign manager and appointee to the Roads Development Agency Board, Willie Nsanda.
It was clear from the President’s outburst that one of 3 things is happening: (a) Mr. Nsanda as RDA chairperson is completely out of his depth in this sector; or (b) the President is playing politics due to the severe pressure on him to show progress on his numerous unfulfilled campaign promises; or (c) both factors are at play.
My conclusion is that while the first explanation seems undisputable, the President is feeling the weight of his Party’s rather lethargic first year in office and wants the Link 8,000 Project to be one of his flagship achievements. If this is really his goal then he is going about it the wrong way.
Link 8,000 is a rather ambitious programme to connect the country internally (and also externally) by constructing 8,000 kilometres of road during the next 4 years of the PF administration.
To give you some idea of how impossible this task is, when you break down the numbers, you would have to construct over 160 kilometres of road every month: a programme that would cost 2 billion dollars per annum and probably gobble up all the bitumen production capacity of the entire Southern African region!
The MMD version of Link 8,000 (the so-called Formula 1) involved less than 500 kilometres of road construction and was barely able to be completed within 2 years in spite of the fast pace at which construction took place. But this is really only the beginning of the problem with the PF’s Link 8,000.
The Chirundu road project that the Republican President went to inspect was based on a contract that was awarded only a month ago. The road project itself is a noble and commercially sensible idea.
It will provide the fastest route to the Chirundu border and could save up to 40 per cent of the travel time that is currently being experienced between Lusaka and the border.
This will drive commercial traffic onto this route because: (a) time will be saved; (b) savings in fuel will be very significant; and (c) there will be reduced wear and tear.
The cost and time implications make this project one that would have been ripe for private sector investment rather than commitment of massive government resources.
But let us stick for a moment with the on-screen annoyance of the President who accused the contractor of causing unnecessary delays, threatening to terminate the contract if they did not increase the pace of construction.
The normal terms of contract in road projects stipulate that construction should commence one month after the initial deposit has been paid (which is normally 30 days after the contract has been signed).
It can take up to 3 months from this initial payment for a contractor to mobilise equipment, secure supplies of crushed stone and import materials like bitumen for the road surface.
In addition, a contractor has to establish camps along the route and prepare a diversion road which may include displacement of existing residents in the affected areas.
With mobilisation time expected to take 3 months and with the onset of the rains (when very little road construction can take place) real progress on the new Chirundu road will only begin in April.
But this does not highlight a potentially bigger problem – what the road will eventually cost the Zambian taxpayer and the nation at large.
Let us start with how the contract was awarded. It is important to remember that this particular contract was single-sourced. There are 3 types of tenders that are generally issued when it comes to road construction: single source; selective tender; and open tender.
It is only in cases of emergency (like the collapse of a vital road for commerce and trade) or in cases where unique specialised services are necessary, that you would opt for single sourcing road construction. Even the last MMD administration with all the allegations of corruption surrounding it, never opted to single-source road construction.
Two problems arise with single-sourcing: (a) lack of transparency; and (b) lack of competition. These factors only increase the cost of the construction. What makes matters even worse in this case is that the road has not been costed and was awarded on a presumed unit cost (approximately one million dollars a kilometre).
Awarding a single-source road contract without costing the project presents a possible financial disaster. The road conditions could be so bad (swamps, rocks and stones, steep hills) that the K250 billion budget so far will escalate to twice that sum if not more.
An equally troubling aspect of the Chirundu project is that the road is being paid for entirely by the Zambian government, meaning the PF administration has full say on who gets awarded the contract.
Yet in spite of the many statements that they are concerned about Zambianisation, it is clear that they are not interested in promoting Zambian enterprise. The contract was awarded to China Geo.
This is not to say we should not award contracts to the Chinese or any other nationality for that matter but where there are clear opportunities to promote the emergence of Zambian enterprises, the Government should seize those opportunities.
Awarding a 50 million dollar contract to a foreign entity means that profits will go to that foreign operator. If the contract had been divided in such a way as to involve local enterprises, the profits will be spent right here in Zambia, improving the prospects of new jobs creation.
NAREP is championing an empowerment and employment plan precisely to address this lack of focus and we intend to collect over a million signatures to support our cause.
All of this seems to be beyond Mr. Nsanda who has allowed the president to shower threats on a process that cannot go any faster than it already is. Terminating a contract without proper cause (and there is no proper cause in this case) will result in huge penalties and progress being even slower than it is already.
But can we really expect RDA Board Chairman Willie Nsanda to know this? Being the president’s campaign manager is not a qualification for heading such an important entity responsible for developing our most critical infrastructure.
We all expect politicians to reward their cadres but not at the expense of destroying the few clear chances Zambia has to make a major difference in the lives of the people that are facing the constant challenge of load-shedding, lack of access to clean water, poor education, poor or non-existent access to quality healthcare. Mr. Nsanda is well beyond his depth and must either resign or be fired.
As principal advisor to the President he should have advised that the pace of construction is in line with normal construction of a matter of this nature.
A competent board chairman should be appointed (even if this is from the ranks of the PF) and RDA should not be managed by state house.
It is impractical (and quite frankly hard to justify) to expect the Republican President or indeed his staff at state house to inspect performance of all the roads in the country to the professional level required to ensure quality and timely delivery.
Once a matter is being handled by state house, few officials will be able to robustly challenge erroneous decision and actions they make – like the tirade we witnessed two nights ago.
Let us for once do the right thing and appoint competent and capable teams to official positions.
Elias C. Chipimo
President, National Restoration Party
31 October 2012