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Profile: NATIONAL Roads Fund Agency yesterday started operating a number of newly installed toll gates around the Country. Here motorists wait for their turn to pay toll fees at Manyumbi toll gate in Kapiri Mposhi on Great North Road. PICTURE: CHAMBO NGUNI

Keep faith in local contractors

TOLL gates are a key source of revenue for road maintenance and development.
For a country like Zambia, where Government has placed a premium on infrastructure development and road construction in particular, the need to raise enough revenue to maintain these facilities cannot be overemphasised.
We are cognisant of the fact that for a long time the country neglected or did not pay sufficient attention to road maintenance. This led to this infrastructure deteriorating to the worst levels.
We had some of the bitumen standard (tarred) roads reduced to stretches of potholes or back to gravel.
This is why the demand for road construction is so high, because instead of just working on new roads, Government is also faced with the task of reconstructing dilapidated ones.
Had the previous governments been consistent in road maintenance, perhaps the burden would have been lessened.
One of the reasons that have been advanced for failure to maintain roads in the past is lack of funds.
The maintenance needs report of 2012 states that Zambia has a core road network of 40,454kms and that a minimum of US$721 million is needed annually for maintenance.
This amount is by far much more compared to what is collected through road-user charges.
For instance, according National Road Fund Agency, in 2016 only K1.8 billion was collected from road-user charges and K2.1 billion was raised in 2017.
These amounts fall below the annual requirement of US$721 million (about K7.2 billion) for road maintenance annually.
This is where toll gates come in, to generate complementary income for road maintenance besides traditional sources.
In view of the need to maintain the newly constructed roads, Government has embarked on the construction of toll plazas on major roads across the country.
While the construction of toll plazas such as the Shimabala, Katuba, Mumbwa and Chongwe has been completed, the construction of Manyumbi and a few others has dragged on.
For Manyumbi, a local contractor, Nzovu Transport Limited, was engaged in 2014 to construct the toll plaza.
However, by October 2016, the scheduled date for completion, the contractor had not made satisfactory progress.
Even after being given an extension, the contractor failed to deliver prompting the Road Development Agency (RDA) to terminate the contract.
Since then, the project has been lying idle.
It is, however, heartening that RDA has now engaged another local company, Lavias Trading Construction, to complete the project.
This is not only overdue but evidence that Government was not sitting idly by but working behind the scenes to find a replacement for Nzovu Transport Limited.
It is also evidence that Government is resolute on changing the face of the country through infrastructure development.
Further, this shows that Government still has confidence in local firms in delivering projects to the expectations of the nation.
When completed, the toll plaza will not only contribute to the beauty of the country but more importantly provide income for road construction and maintenance.
Zambia should roll out as many toll gates as possible. This is a cardinal way to sustain road construction and maintenance, which is key to economic development.
RDA should also be commended for awarding the contract to yet another local contractor despite being disappointed by one.
The newly engaged contractor will therefore do well to save the face of local contractors, some of whom have branded themselves as unreliable. The onus is on the newly engaged contractor to deliver according to contractual obligations.
The contractor needs to find a balance between efficiency and quality works.
It is also hoped that RDA will sooner than later ensure completion of the Kafulafuta and Choma toll plazas among others.
This will certainly help in raising significant revenue for road maintenance.