OUR ROADS ARE EXPENSIVE…we must bring construction cost down – Minister

OUR roads are expensive and we must work to bring the cost down, says infrastructure and housing minister Vincent Mwale.

Mwale said he had a meeting with the Engineering Institution of Zambia, Association for Consulting Engineers of Zambia and the Road Development Agency on Tuesday over the same.

“Today I met with Engineering Institute of Zambia, Association for Consulting Engineers of Zambia & RDA, I challenged them to work together to bring down the cost of constructing roads in our country, as Gov [government] we think our roads are expensive & we must work to bring the cost down,” said Mwale in a tweet.

And Mwale says it will soon come up with standardised models and costings for constructing public infrastructure.

He says this is aimed at ensuring that the government realises value for money and remove variances in the cost of constructing similar public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads in the country.

According to a statement issued by ministry public relations officer Jeff Banda, the minister said there was urgent need to change public perception that the cost of constructing in Zambia was high compared to other countries.

Mwale was speaking when he met various statutory bodies under the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure Development to appreciate their functions.

“I want the EIZ, the ACEZ, the RDA and the Department of Public Infrastructure under my ministry to embark on a study and come up with models and uniform costings of constructing public schools and hospitals,” Mwale stated.

He further explained that that he wants engineers in Zambia to partner with the government by coming up with ideas that would help reduce the cost of construction in the country.

“My ministry must work hard and produce models of low cost designs for public infrastructure and help all government line ministries realise value for money,” Mwale said.

He said the government was currently implementing austerity measures and that his ministry should help in ensuring that the cost of constructing public infrastructure was not exorbitant.

Mwale said discrepancies in the cost of construction for similar buildings, even when different terrains were taken into consideration, should not be too much.

“It is surprising and shocking to find that the same province has differences in the cost of constructing a gravel road per kilometre. The same is happening in the cost of schools and clinics,” Mwale stated.

He called for uniformity in the cost of constructing public infrastructure and that where the terrain was different, the variance should not be very big.

Mwale added that the ministry was aware of the money owed to consultants and contractors in the country.

“I am aware that government is owing a lot of money to consultants and local contractors. I must assure you that government through the Ministry of Finance is doing everything possible to dismantle the debt. We are aware of the trickle down effects that dismantling of debt will have on society,” he stated.

The Minister also said he wants to see a situation where many local contractors are awarded contractors as opposed to giving foreign contractors.

He said this is because there is not only experience gained by local contractors but revenue is returned in the country and not externalised.

And EIZ president Sydney Matamwandi said engineers were happy with the government’s enabling environment for engineers to practice their profession.

ACEZ president Able Ngandu said engineers were ready to present proposals on how best to have uniformity in the cost of construction in the country.

And RDA director and chief executive officer Elias Mwape said the agency was effectively executing its mandate although it owes vendors a lot of money.

In September 2017, President Edgar Lungu announced the government would spend US$1.2 billion to construct the 321-kilometre Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway

He said during the construction period, the project would create over 3, 000 jobs.

He, however, did not state the financier of the contract and the terms under which the loan was contracted.

“I am delighted to announce that finally government has awarded the contract to China Jiangxi Corporation to construct the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriage way at a cost of US $ 1.2 billion. The project is expected to be completed within 48 months,” said President Lungu.

“I wish to remind the Road Development Agency to ensure that local Zambian firms comprising small and medium scale contractors are engaged on this project as sub-contractors in line with the 20 per cent sub-contracting policy.

But sources within the Road Development Agency (RDA) said construction of the highest quality bituminous surface treatment road in Zambia costs between $750,000 and $1 million in extreme conditions.

This means that the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway project, which is 321 kilometres, should cost around $600 million on average.

“Our latest estimates show that that road [Lusaka – Ndola dual carriageway] would cost between US $480 million and US $600 – US $650 million when it is a very high quality road but how they arrived at the figure of US $1.2 billion, we are not privy. After all, the decision to award the contract to China Jiangxi Corporation was handled directly by State House; us we just got the instruction,” a source from RDA said. “Does it mean this Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway will cost US $2 million per kilometer? How? But maybe the cost could have been inflated by the financing cost…what are the conditions for the loan and who is lending us that money? What is the cost of that money? Those are key questions you need to ask the [then] Minister [of Infrastructure Development Ronald Chitotela] but surely the terrain between Lusaka and Ndola cannot justify the amount of money [US $1.2 billion].”

Recently, there has been overtures from the RDA to the effect that the cost of the project may reduce “depending on the scope of works.”

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