Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Business Reporter
THERE are fears that the cheap imported material being used in the construction of the country’s roads is substandard, raising concern on the infrastructure’s lifespan.
Asphalt Products managing director Engineer Francis Mangwendeza said the non-inclusion of bitumen emulsion under import restrictions was accelerating an influx of imported substandard road construction product mostly from South Africa into the country.
“We have approached the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and applied for its (bitumen emulsion) inclusion without success. No reasons have been given by the ministry for its non-inclusion. The result of this is that other inferior products are being imported and supplied mainly to urban and rural councils who do not have capacity for testing these materials,” said Eng Mangwendeza.
Bitumen emulsion is a mixture of fine droplets of bitumen and water consisting of 40 percent water and 60 percent usable binder. However, tests conducted by Asphalt Products on some of the imported product revealed that its usable binder was as low as 40 percent.
“As you know the product composition is 40 percent water and 60 percent usable binder. Ironically there are people importing these products from South Africa wasting valuable foreign exchange.
“The products being imported are not subject to any testing and therefore there is a substantial amount of inferior products being imported. We have tested some of these imports and found the usable binder content as low as 40 percent,” said Eng Mangwendeza.
The revelations about the substandard road construction material is a threat to the life span of the country’s road network which is currently being constructed or refurbished as most of it is being imported from South Africa.
Zimbabwe’s entire road network has outlived its 20-year life span hence the need for major refurbishments.
The country requires at least $2,2 billion to rehabilitate the national road network comprising approximately 17 000 kilometres of tarred roads and 71 000 kilometres of gravel roads.
Roads play a critical role in the socio-economic development of any nation and durability is important. Zimbabwe’s road network is in a deplorable state, especially in urban areas.
Asphalt Products opened the country’s first bitumen emulsion plant early last year. The state-of-the-art plant valued at $500 000 has the capacity of producing 10 tonnes of bitumen emulsion per hour.
However, the plant is said to be operating at about 20 percent largely due to depleted nostro account balances culminating in local banks struggling to facilitate external payments for the importation of strategic raw materials.
“The plant is currently running at 20 percent capacity due to shortages of import content attributable to current problems in importing being faced by the country,” said Eng Mangwendeza.
The company is currently working on getting an International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) certification.
“Our products are now certified by the Standards Association of Zimbabwe and bear their mark as a quality assurance. We are currently working on ISO certification. However, the low productivity has caused delays in this process,” said Eng Mangwendeza.
Contacted for a comment Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo could neither confirm nor deny the claim by Asphalt Products that some of the imported bitumen emulsion was of inferior standard.
“I don’t think I am in a position to comment on that (substandard imported bitumen emulsion). It will be unjust because I am not an engineer but I am an economist. They (Asphalt Products) are in a better position to prove that. What I only encouraged them to do was to bring their bitumen to those that will have been contracted to construct roads and express their interest to supply the product and it gets tested and if the contractor is satisfied then they can supply. For instance Geiger International will soon be advertising calling on various suppliers,” said Dr Gumbo.
Buy Zimbabwe chief executive officer Mr Munyaradzi Hwengwere said there was a need for Asphalt Products to take samples of the inferior bitumen emulsion to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce for proof.
“The company should take samples of that product and make it public and approach the Ministry of Industry and Commerce as well as Bureau Veritas because the Government engaged Bureau Veritas to check on quality of products and to ensure that any product that comes through the borders of the country are quickly inspected,” said Mr Hwengwere.
Bureau Veritas is a French-based company which was awarded a Consignment Based Conformity Assessment (CBCA) contract in 2015 to ensure reduction of hazardous and substandard imported products to Zimbabwe, improve customs duty collection, provide compliance certificates to regulated products exported to Zimbabwe at source and prior to shipment. It also seeks to ensure Zimbabwe consumers’ and industry’s protection, enable a fair competition and avoid unnecessary retesting by recognition of tests results or meeting minimum reliability criteria. -@DNsingo