LIFE: WHAT A JOURNEY with CHARLES CHISALA
MINISTER of Housing and Infrastructure Development Ronald Kaoma Chitotela has become an instant darling of the people of Chifunabuli Constituency in Samfya district, Luapula Province.
The hard working and pragmatic minister, who is also the member of Parliament for Pambashe in Kawambwa district, has not swum across the entire width of the crocodile-infested Lake Chifunabuli and come out of the water unscathed.
Neither has he punched a full-grown, man-eating crocodile to death with his bare fists to earn this celebrity status among the Ng’umbo people (the famous AbenaNg’umbo).
While on his inspection of projects in the province less than two weeks ago, Hon Chitotela did something that has melted the hearts of the people of Chifunabuli.
He inspected the construction works on the 113kilometre Musaila-Lubwe-Kasaba road and expressed anger at the slow pace at which the project has been moving.
BSBK Limited is the contractor working on the road.
Since the Road Development Agency (RDA) awarded the company the K439 million contract in 2014 there has been so little progress that the project has become the butt of every unflattering joke among the local communities.
The project involves upgrading the road traversing Samfya, Mansa and Luwingu to bituminous standard, which the local people understand better as tarmac.
The people of Chifunabuli have cried, pleaded and appealed for a tarred road for decades since Zambia attained independence, and it has been the hottest issue during every parliamentary and presidential election.
Successive MPs have used it as the fastest horse to gallop them to Manda Hill, that land of milk and honey.
All that the candidates have been doing is assure the voters that they will not sleep until the road is tarred, only to stop talking about it after winning the election.
It was with great joy, therefore, that AbenaNg’umbo received the news that the Patriotic Front (PF) government had included it in the Link Zambia 8000 programme in 2013.
When word went round that the contract had been signed they threw parties, including akalela dance concerts, to toast the glad tidings.
Again, there was jubilation when President Lungu inspected the road in 2015 and reassured the people of Musaila, Ndoba and Chifunabuli that he would ensure that the construction project was completed to fulfil the promise of late President Michael Chilufya Sata.
But in the last two years the joy has been gradually turning into disillusionment and outright resentment towards both the government and the contractor.
The people of Chifunabuli have invested so much hope in this project that they will not accept failure on the part of the contractor.
In fact there is open hostility towards the company’s representatives and senior employees in the communities along the road project, which have been accusing them of being playful.
Little wonder Hon Chitotela was breathing fire. He warned BSBK country boss Pratyushi Swain that the government will not extend the contract should his company fail to beat the deadline.
Addressing the contractor in the presence of a horde of journalists he said that he was very disappointed with the little progress he had seen.
“I would like to express my dissatisfaction with the pace at which the upgrading of the Samfya-Kasaba road is moving,” Hon Chitotela said.
“This project started in 2015 and is expected to be completed by February 2019. I want to make it clear that there will be no further extension of the contract period,” he said.
“BSBK Limited, therefore, has 15 months in which to finish the project and hand it over to the government for commissioning. I therefore expect them to speed up the implementation of the works.”
Hon Chitotela demanded monthly progress reports on the project henceforth.
That should surely be food for thought for his permanent secretary Charles Mushota, director in charge of planning, monitoring and research Charles Mweshi and the regional RDA office.
They should closely monitor and supervise the project because the people of Chifunabuli will not accept anything less than what they have seen in other parts of the province such as Samfya, Mansa, Chipili and Kawambwa in terms of quality.
It’s good that Mr Swain pledged that his company will complete the tarring of the road on time.
It was, however, Hon Chitotela who emerged as the darling of the people for his frank talk and demand for progress.
The road becomes semi-impassable during the rainy season especially that Samfya, like the rest of Luapula Province, lies in the high-rainfall zone.
Even in the dry seasons it is in a deplorable state.
One public bus operator has even taken advantage of the poor state of the road and the absence of other operators to exploit the people of Chifunabuli and subject them to pathetic service.
They are literally at the mercy of this average bus company’s uncouth and rude crews who charge hapless poor villagers exorbitant fees even for hand luggage, in some cases .Hon Chitotela should, therefore, not be surprised that he is now a hero, a celebrity, in Chifunabuli.
In fact, I have heard a rumour that some overzealous headmen and their subjects have been seriously discussing the possibility of holding a mini-Kwanga ceremony at which they intend to honour him with the status of ‘senior headman’ with his own kapaso.
Lately, I have been bombarded with phone calls from my relatives in Ng’umboland (KuNg’umbo) asking for Hon Chitotela’s personal mobile phone number so that they can personally thank him for the concern he has shown for their welfare.
But I am reluctant to give away the man’s contact number without his permission.
“Ema minista aba [these are the real ministers]. You should give me his number if you have it so that I can personally tell him how happy we are,” said Lubwe businessman William Sebyo.
Mr Sebyo said there is a jovial mood among the people of Chifunabuli, especially the business community, after Hon Chitotela’s visit.
Provincial minister Nickson Chilangwa inspected the road project last week and made it clear to BSBK Limited that the government will not accept excuses but expect to see an improvement in the pace of the project.
This is the kind of seriousness the people have been waiting to see.