Editor's Comment

Contractors should provide value for taxpayers’ money

ZAMBIA, like many other developing countries, has a long way to go in its development journey.
One of the inhibiting factors in this journey is limited financial resources to support both consumption and development needs.

Despite inadequate financial resources, Government has taken an initiative to outsource funding for the sake of accelerating development.

And one of the major development areas that have been given priority is infrastructure.
From the time the PF government assumed office in 2011, they have embarked on an ambitious infrastructure development programme.
For instance, Government launched the Link Zambia 8000 and L-400 projects in 2012 and 2013, respectively, to connect all parts of the country as well as upgrade township roads.
These are very expensive ventures that have and are still gobbling billions of Kwacha.
Under the first phase of the Link Zambia 8000 Project, which covers about 2,290km of roads in the country, the cost is estimated at K7.9 trillion.
The second phase which covers 3,049km of road network is estimated to cost K11.25 trillion while the third phase which involves upgrading 2,862km of road network is estimated at K9 trillion.
On the other hand, the first phase of the L-400 project, which covers 408km of urban roads, gobbled US$348.8 million.
The second phase covering 160km is expected to gobble about K241 million.
Going by these figures, it is clear that road construction is one of the sectors that are consuming a huge chunk of our financial resources and justifiably so given that infrastructure is the bedrock for economic growth.
It is also evident that the amount of money needed to develop the road infrastructure cannot be fully sourced from our limited resource basket.
For instance in the 2017 budget Government allocated K6 billion towards road infrastructure and in 2018 the allocation has increased to K8.6 billion. This is not sufficient, given the huge demand for road infrastructure due to establishment of new districts, townships and farm areas across the country.
Government has had no choice but to borrow to supplement the budgetary allocations for road infrastructure development.
For instance, of the US$750 million Eurobond Government acquired in 2012, the road sector was allocated US$310 million, while from the US$1.25 billion Eurobond acquired in 2015, US$410.7 million was allocated.
Given the huge expenditure on road infrastructure and the fact that most of it is borrowed, President Lungu is justified to question the quality of roads being constructed.
President Lungu recently raised concern over the condition of some roads constructed under the L-400 and has since asked the contractor, Avic International, to revisit the works.
Mr Lungu observed that most roads under the project are being washed away by heavy rains due to poor drainage.
“We don’t want to be accused of having stolen money, so you see what you can do about these roads because I took a survey last night in Chilenje and the roads are disintegrating,” he said.
This is indeed saddening considering that these are newly-constructed roads and at a huge cost.
President Lungu should be commended for being proactive and taking interest in projects being implemented across the country.
Government has an obligation to ensure that value for taxpayers’ money is realised in all its investments.
We are, however, disappointed that it had to take the head of State to note the poor works.
Where are the technocrats who are supposed to ensure that contractors do quality works? Where is the Road Development Agency?
Surely, we cannot afford to be this carefree, especially that these projects are being implemented using exorbitantly borrowed funds.
Where we stand today, the country is burdened with debt and the first Eurobond is expected to mature in a year’s time.
How then are we going to progress if besides repaying debt, we will also be required to keep on reconstructing the same roads because of poor quality?
It means we will be going round in circles never to reach our destination, which is development.
We agree with President Lungu that the contractor should get back on site and rectify the problem. As a country that is craving for development, we cannot afford to be wasteful by entertaining shoddy works.
We urge those technocrats in charge of quality control to take keen interest in these projects failure to which they should be held accountable.
Our contractors should also be sincere in the way they implement projects awarded to them. They should not wait for someone to stand with a whip behind them for them to provide quality works.
They should be driven by good business ethics which border on providing value for money. Otherwise, they will retire themselves out of business.


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