By Ndafadza Madanha
WHEN Finance Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube announced in his 2019 budget statement that “a road is an economy” capable of transforming economic activities and lives around it many failed to appreciate the essence of the statement.
In the budget statement Ncube unveiled a $910.4 million package to rehabilitate the country’s road infrastructure which according to a 2016/17 National Roads Condition and Inventory Report, carried out on all public roads identified 98 049km of network, of which 30% is in the poor to very poor condition, 40% in fair condition, 17% in good condition whilst only 8% was in very good condition.
The package outlined by minister Ncube comprised of fiscal resources to the tune of $381.3 million and Road Fund resources of $272.8m toward road infrastructure. Another portion was set to be raised through the issuance of an infrastructure bond.
In order to reverse the slide of the road network the ZANU PF led government targeted investments during 2019 into the road sector to cover the following dualisation of 135 km, upgrading of 646 km of gravel to bituminous surfacing.
The programme would also include re-gravelling of 483 km, construction of 22 bridges countrywide and upgrading of National Parks roads.
In the 2020 Budget Statement Government continued prioritising Roads rehabilitation with ZWL$1.2 billion allocated while ongoing upgrading works on trunk roads received another ZWL$1.2 billion;
Rehabilitation and maintenance of rural feeder roads through DDF got ZWL$120 million while Local Authority roads, funded through ZINARA set to receive ZWL$510.8 million in 2020.
The above excludes resources being channelled to Local Authorities through the Inter-Governmental Fiscal Transfers, for roads infrastructure development.
Already a significant amount has been released towards road rehabilitation projects and notable improvements on the road network have been achieved, though the Cyclone Idai and El Nino induced drought forced Government to divert funds intended for road infrastructure to meet the consequences of the natural catastrophes.
Some of the major roads targeted for construction by the ZANU PF led government include dualisation of the Beitbridge-Harare-Chirundu, dualisation of the Beitbridge-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road and dualisation of Kwekwe-Nkayi road.
The thrust by Government to rehabilitate and build road infrastructure is bearing fruits with President and First Secretary of the Party Cde Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa commissioning the second phase of the Tanganda-Ngundu Road in Chipinge which was bankrolled to the tune of US$20 million.
President ED Mnangagwa has said road infrastructure is critical to the economic development of the country and unlike before the national road authority ZINARA is now channelling money they are generating towards road rehabilitation evidence that the country is capable of refurbishing roads using domestic resources.
The country’s major economic gateway the Harare-Beitbridge highway is currently undergoing reconstruction and dualisation at various sections with resources generated from ring- fencing 5 percent of excise duty revenue collected on fuel.
Since Zimbabwe is a predominantly agro-based economy, the rehabilitation of roads will provide better access to farms and local communities, resulting in ease of transportation of farm produce and other materials as well as creating jobs.
These projects will go a long way in boosting agriculture as a well-maintained road network is crucial when infrastructural issues relating to agricultural productivity are being discussed.
Road infrastructure is a key contributor to productivity mainly by reducing transaction costs in input and output markets, as well as better integrating markets within regions.
Roads link farmers not only with their input markets but also with their product markets. Lack of efficient transportation links and substandard roads decrease farmers’ margins by increasing the cost of inputs and reducing their accessibility to their product market.
A study by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) indicated that a major determinant of growth is lack of adequate infrastructure in particular roads.
The state of Zimbabwe road networks was in dire straits hence the thrust by the ZANU PF government led by President ED Mnangagwa to scale up of investment as local roads continued to lag behind other parts of the world which impacted not only agriculture but all other sectors of the economy.