BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka
THE commemoration of the Road Development Agency (RDA)â€™s 10 years of its existence a fortnight ago was not in vain.
The importance of the event lay not in the commemoration of the event itself, but on the reflection of the strategic importance of the RDA to Zambiaâ€™s development agenda.
A public body created through the Public Roads Act No. 12 of 2002, to be responsible for the care, maintenance and construction of public roads in Zambia, the RDA only commenced its operations in 2006. The institution is therefore exactly 10 years old this year.
The significance of the commemoration is that the agency has since its inception grown both in terms of numbers and responsibility. With a staff base of less than 100 in 2006, the RDA now has close to 500 employees, accounting for staff at headquarters and the 10 regional offices.
Even more significantly, the RDA has taken on additional programmes over the years since its inception. These include the ambitious Link Zambia 8,000, Pave Zambia 2,000, L400, CB 400 and the construction of major bridges across the country.
â€œThere is no doubt of the contribution that the RDA has made to facilitate Zambiaâ€™s economic development. Over the years, the agency has delivered a number of key projects in all the 10 provinces of the country,â€ Minister of Housing and Infrastructure Ronald Chitotela said during the commemoration in Lusaka.
In North-Western Province, for example, the agency completed the construction of the controversial Mutandaâ€“Chavuma road, a protracted project that was started in the first republic, periodic maintenance works on the Solweziâ€“Mwinilunga Road, while the tarring of the Mwinilungaâ€“Jimbe road and rehabilitation of the Solwezi-Chingola road are on-going.
In Western Province, the agency recently delivered the Monguâ€“Kalabo road, another protracted project, and the Sioma Bridge.
â€œAs we all know, previous attempts to build the Monguâ€“Kalabo road project had failed. The Monguâ€“Kalabo road is now an engineering marvel in our country,â€ Mr Chitotela observed.
On the Copperbelt, the RDA recently completed the construction of the Mufuchani Bridge while construction of the Kitweâ€“Chingola dual carriageway is still going on.
The agency has also tarred the road from Kalulushi to Lufwanyama. Lufwanyma was the only district on the Copperbelt that did not have a tarred road.
In Muchinga Province, the agency has constructed the Mbalaâ€“Nakonde road while construction of other roads such as the Isokaâ€“Muyombe and Chamaâ€“Matumbo roads is nearing completion.
In Northern Province, the RDA recently commissioned the newly tarred Kasama-Luwingu road.
In Eastern Province the RDA has completed the construction of the Chipataâ€“Mfuwe road and rehabilitation of the Chipataâ€“Lundazi road and the Great East Road between Luangwa and Katete.
In Lusaka Province, the agency has successfully delivered the L400, a road project that has transformed the city and contributed to effective management of congestion on roads that have been widened.
The RDA has also successfully delivered the Luangwa-Feira road and the Leopards Hill to Katoba including the Michael Chilufya Sata Bridge while construction of other major roads in the province is still on-going.
In Luapula Province, the RDA completed construction of the Levy Mwanawasa Bridge connecting Copperbelt and Luapula provinces, while construction of the Pedicle Road is nearing completion. And so is the construction of other major roads such as the Kawambwaâ€“ Mushota road.
The success story is the same in Southern Province, where the RDA completed rehabilitation of the Zimbaâ€“Livingstone road which was in a very poor state a few years ago and Lot I of the Bottom Road has been completed while works on phase II will be completed in coming years.
Tarring the Monze-Niko road and construction of the Kazungula Bridge between Zambia and Botswana are on-going, while the improvement of the Livingstoneâ€“Sesheke road has been partially completed.
In Central Province, the RDA has started constructing the Mumbwa-Landless Corner road where Lot II of the project was completed while Lot I is on-going.
Construction of Lusenefwa Bridge on the Kabweâ€“Luano road is also on-going and nearing completion.
In addition, the RDA has tarred and improved township roads in various districts such as Chama, Mambwe, Mbala, Mansa, Mufulira, Luanshya, Chingola, Ndola, Kabwe, Kapiri Mposhi and Livingstone, among others.
The RDA has also implemented programmes to improve the state of feeder roads in agricultural productive areas under the Out Performance Based Road Contracts (OPRCs). The first generation of OPRCs were undertaken in Southern, Eastern and Lusaka provinces.
From this catalogue, it can be noted that these roads are contributing significantly to the economic development of the country in the following ways:
.The roads provide accessibility to social amenities such as schools, hospitals and markets for the people both in urban and rural areas.
.The roads facilitate the smooth movement of various goods and services that are critical throughout the country.
The new roads and those that have been improved are facilitating the development and movement of agricultural inputs and delivery of farm produce to the markets particularly in agricultural productive areas.
.The roads such as Chipataâ€“Mfuwe road are facilitating the development of the tourism sector.
The roads are facilitating commerce, trade and industry as various goods and services are conveyed on the road.
.The rehabilitation and maintenance of major roads in the country has eased the movement of people.
â€œWe all recall how difficult it was to move on some of our roads in the late 1990s and early 2000s when maintenance of roads became a serious challenge,â€ Mr Chitotela said.
â€œThe importance of RDA to this country cannot be overemphasised. This agency is at the centre of Zambiaâ€™s development agenda, and in our view as Government and the responsible ministry, the institution has performed well in the last 10 years of its operation. Of course that is not in any way to imply that the institution has not faced any challenges,â€ he added.
The agency has scored these successes against a backdrop of challenges. It has, for example, been grappling with such issues as inadequate funding both for its operations and capital projects, inadequate contractor capacity, inadequate materials for road construction in some parts of the country, and inadequate staffing levels, among others.
RDA board chairperson Samuel Mukupa said the agencyâ€™s mandate has grown in responsibilities over the years. Mr Mukupa said most of the programmes like tolling that RDA is implementing now were not there when it started operations in 2006.
RDA commenced phase I of the tolling programme in November 2013 for selected classes of vehicles.
â€œTolling was being done from ports of entry and our weighbridges since we did not have exiting toll plazas. The agency immediately set out to begin the construction of toll plazas at places like Manyumbi and Kafulafuta, including Choma,â€ Mr Mukupa said.
He said in the coming months, RDA will be able to see the completion of construction works on these toll plazas.
â€œIn 2015 following some policy reforms, we made institutional arrangements which appointed the National Road Fund Agency (NRFA) as the lead tolling agent to collect tolls while RDA remained with the construction of the infrastructure,â€ Mr Mukupa said.
He said the agency has also played its role to facilitate Governmentâ€™s infrastructure development agenda through the construction of roads around the country.
â€œThere is no doubt that the RDA has transformed Zambia into a truly land-linked country and continues to do so by delivering all on-going projects,â€ he said.
Mr Mukupa said since 2006, RDA has witnessed an increase in the funding to the road sector although the sector still requires more funds to implement the huge capital projects. We are however mindful of the competing needs that Government has to take care of and thus our proactivity to raise alternative funds through the tolling programme to finance the maintenance and construction of roads.
â€œThe agency has also come up with a Road Maintenance Strategy that will help us to prioritise the maintenance of roads. As you all well know, there has been a lot of investment in the road sector over the years. This investment needs to be protected through periodic and routine maintenance of roads,â€ he said.
Mr Mukupa said the bulk of the resources in 2017 will be reserved for maintenance activities of roads and bridges.
BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka