Zimbabwe is at the beginning of an exciting journey towards prosperity. It won’t necessarily be a smooth journey, and beginnings are never easy. But with real reform and a commitment to restructuring our economy we will rebuild our economy and our nation.
And indeed building is at the heart of our agenda; in particular, road building. This essential infrastructure is arguably the most important of all our public assets, contributing to economic development and growth whilst providing access to economic opportunities, employment, health and education services.
It connects Zimbabweans and levels the playing field. All Zimbabweans have the basic and fundamental right to access healthcare, access markets, and the freedom of movement. Roads, therefore, are key.
Dealing with the challenges in the road sector is part of our strategy to fight poverty, address marginalisation of communities as well as remove barriers limiting productive individuals from contributing to society and the economy.
Investments in a well-connected road network is therefore, good for business and balanced development in our country. It opens up previously inaccessible areas whilst also crowding in private sector investment to our growth points and service centres. In the process, we stimulate economic and social development for our rural communities.
Quality roads also ensure safe and enjoyable travel for the commuting public, whilst reducing costs to the overall economy by minimising travel times, loss of lives and property through accidents.
Drawing from the short term, Transitional Stabilisation Programme, the 2019 Infrastructure Investment Plan, with an allocation of over US$900 million, targets to more than double, our investment in the road sector.
We are upgrading 781km of our road network, regravelling 483km and constructing 22 bridges. Each of the targeted roads has been identified including specific works for the year, which provides an opportunity for citizens to monitor progress in implementing planned works. As with every project in the new Zimbabwe; transparency is imperative.
Building roads of course is not cheap, but we have committed to balancing the Budget and thus Government has committed resources from the Intermediated Money Transfer Tax to fund the programme.
With the resources being ring-fenced towards this critical sector, the Department of Roads will rehabilitate or upgrade at least five trunk roads from gravel to bituminous surfacing in every province, with no exception. The new Zimbabwe must be upgraded for all Zimbabweans.
Similarly, the District Development Fund is gravelling and regrading at least three feeder roads per province, whilst urban and rural local authorities are up-scaling the road rehabilitation exercise for roads under their purview. The overall objective is to restore trafficability on our 99 000km road network and to transform it into a world class network within three years, consistent with the country’s vision of an Empowered Upper Middle Income Society by 2030.
The 2019 Road Development Programme is already underway and we are seeing tangible results countrywide. The progress we are witnessing is indicative of the determination by Government to deliver pro-poor projects even under severe financial limitations.
In addition, we have committed to maximise the use of local content in all our construction activities to give impetus to local employment creation and other economic opportunities for local traders, suppliers of construction materials and other inputs.
After nearly two decades of courting private sector funding towards the upgrading of the 580km Harare-Beitbridge Road without success, the new administration has adopted a bold decision to implement the project using local resources and capacities.
Funding for this flagship project is being mobilised from the two percent Intermediated Money Transfer Tax as well as the ZINARA Infrastructure Bond.
Work is currently underway focusing on detours for the worst 20km stretch at Beatrice and Chivhu. Additionally, the Department of Roads is working on detailed designs, to enable works on the rest of the road, which will start in earnest by June 2019.
Key dualisation projects on our trunk roads are being implemented across the nation, including the Harare-Bulawayo and Harare-Mutare roads which are being conducted under a phased approach. Dualisation of the Bulawayo-Beitbridge road will also commence once the road designs have been completed.
In each and every province, major roads are being upgraded to bituminous surfacing.
Government has set up a 25,034km feeder road network to improve mobility and access for our citizens, particularly smallholder farmers who continue to struggle to get agricultural inputs as well as sell their produce to the markets. Our farmers and small business owners are the backbone of our economy. We must strengthen them, however, we can.
Unfortunately, traversing our municipal and council roads remains difficult with the current poor state of the road network. We have a lot of work to do on what is a 51 540km urban road network. That’s why in 2019 alone, under the Road Development Programme, at least 21 898 km of local authority roads will be rehabilitated at a cost of US$90 million.
We are also encouraging the new provincial councils, metropolitan councils and local authorities to prioritise the rehabilitation and upgrading of roads within their communities from the $310 million allocation in the 2019 Budget.
It is time to level the playing field or all Zimbabweans; businesses, commuters, farmers, students and schoolchildren. Our investment in road infrastructure will do just this; connecting the people of Zimbabwe, and kick-starting our economy back into life.
The writer is the Minister of Finance and Economic Development. He writes exclusively for The Herald every Thursday.
Source : The Herald