Big roads challenge

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 17:17:04 +0000

THE National Road Fund Agency (NRFA) faces a huge challenge now that Government has honoured its word by releasing the first allocation of K400 million to pay contractors, consultants and other service providers some of whom were on the verge of bankruptcy after being owed money for so long.

This money is part of the K1 billion Minister of Finance Felix Mutati announced in his Budget speech that Government would release to settle long-standing arrears of stakeholders in the road sector whose indebtedness had begun to affect the economy.

Perhaps the NRFA’s biggest challenge is to ensure the money is paid promptly, fairly and to the right people. According to the company’s spokesperson Alphonsious Hamachila, the agency will complete the payment process this week.

Mr Hamachila says payments would be distributed among all ‘‘local’’ contractors and consultants as well as the more than 400 routine maintenance contractors whose scope of work involved pothole patching, road line marking and vegetation control along the highways.

This is where the problem is. We are certain that the K400 million allocated is far from sufficient; it could all be gobbled up by paying three or four big contractors. What mechanism will the NRFA use to ensure first-come-first served in a situation where contractors must have spent the weekend sleeping in the corridors of the agency’s head office, all of them – big and small – clamouring to be paid?

How will the NFRA balance the act of ensuring that all of them get a share of the cake and at what percentages? Who do you pay first  – the big foreign contractor owed over K200 million or the small grass cutter who has not been paid his or her K20,000 since 2013 and has been taken to court by creditors?

Government has directed that the NFRA must first attend to contractors working on major economic routes such as the Chingola-Solwezi road and the Kitwe-Chingola dual carriageway where injection of funds would accelerate works on these projects. Where does that leave the small contractor? We need to know.

The challenge that the road fund agency faces is to share the little money available in the most efficient, impartial and effective manner so that the massive debt among road contractors is dismantled and they all get back to work.

We are aware too that big money has started flowing into Government coffers through the increased road toll plazas fees along our highways and we hope more money will soon be made available to clear the remaining arrears.

With the freeze in place on funding new road projects, it is hoped that money will be sufficient to clear the backlog of debt in order to complete the outstanding road works now that the rains have set in.

What is not clear is whether the announcement to urgently construct two dual carriageways between Lusaka and Livingstone and Lusaka and Kabwe are new or old projects. The Kafue Hook  bridge to Mazabuka stretch on the so-called T001 highway is in bad shape and needs urgent attention. The tar on some parts has been completely destroyed and the road turned into gravel.

This is a very important economic route that links Zambia to most parts of SADC and COMESA. No doubt it has been partly damaged by the heavily laden trucks plying between our neighbours in the north while heading south. That is why new toll gates such as the one at Shamabala near Kafue is necessary to trap these mega road abusers.

It is also why many concerned citizens are agitating for the revitalization of the railways as the largest and cheapest means of transportation. We need to start thinking outside the box and go back to the old ways that worked to our great advantage.

Roads may be fashionable but the railways will always remain our biggest, and certainly, our cheapest form of transport to the sea.

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