The Sunday News
ROAD transport is an important sector of economic activity, especially in developing countries, where it plays an essential role in marketing agricultural products and providing access to health, education, and agricultural inputs and extension services. The impact of road transportation in developed regions is also significant. As an example, in the United States, it accounts for 15 percent of the Gross National Product (GNP) and 84 percent of all spending on transportation. An efficient road system gives a country a competitive edge in moving goods economically. Conversely, lack of accessibility or poor road conditions are barriers to agriculture, industry, and trade, and may hinder the entire development effort,” according to Cesar Queiroz and Surhid Gautam in their academic paper titled Road infrastructure and economic development: Some diagnostic indicators.
The pair further explain how roads play a key role in economic development.
“Transportation plays a multifaceted role in the pursuit of development objectives. Restriction of accessibility limits efficient factor mobility, and defers the transfer of human and material resources to places where they can be employed most productively. Conversely, transportation development helps to attain an efficient distribution of population, industry, and income. Rural areas with low standards of living are characteristically those with inadequate methods of moving people and goods, probably because of deficient access between villages and markets, schools, and medical, economic, administrative, and social services which affect the day-to-day lives of rural people. Transportation is an essential ingredient of almost everything man does to supply himself with the necessities of life. Road transport is particularly important for developing countries, where it provides about 80 to 90 percent of the total inland and/or border crossing transport of people and goods. An effective road network can hasten progress in agricultural and rural development, industry and trade, the viability of urban areas, and the expansion of jobs, education, and personal opportunities. The World Bank’s Long-Term Perspective Study emphasises that although better market incentives (especially related to prices and inputs) to farmers remain important factors in agriculture, the effects of these would be blunted if the physical barriers and economic costs of transporting goods to and from markets remain high.”
It is against that background that we laud the idea of the Government to consider partnering with private players in the development and maintenance of the country’s major highways. Finance, Economic Development and Investment Promotion Minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube, was last week quoted in our sister paper, Chronicle as saying going forward, the ideal situation was to concession trunk roads to the private sector to build them and recover their money through the toll system. This will ensure that road rehabilitation is done timeously and also ease pressure on Government expenditure.
“There is no reason why this road (Beitbridge/Bulawayo/Victoria Falls) cannot be concessioned out. We are concessioning out trunk roads, which are profitable. What will be viable is that the whole road from Beitbridge to Victoria Falls should be in private hands. It should be in PPPs (private-public partnerships). We should give investors 25-to-30-year concessions so that they invest in the road further, manage it, and do enough tolls to recoup their money and surrender it to the Government.”
The minister said developing a sound road network was a critical investment opportunity in its own right hence a similar concession model was being considered for key road projects such as Fighting Road, which connects Lupane to Kwekwe via Nkayi.
Commenting on the concession model, private contractors told our sister paper, Chronicle that the model was welcome. They demanded clarity on how potential investors would recover their monies. The president of Zimbabwe Building Contractors Association, Mr Petros Kagwere, was quoted as saying the concession model was workable as it enhances partnerships between Government and the private sector. He said most infrastructure projects in other countries are private-sector driven.