Gaborone - The Kazungula Bridge project, which is expected to facilitate trade with Botswana and within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, has run into problems.
The contractor of the project, Daewoo Engineering and Construction, has explained that the project is in trouble because it is facing financial problems due to non-payment by the employer.
Asked by The Southern Times to comment on how the company intends to resolve the matter, which recently led to an industrial strike by the employees, project manager, Pius Seone, said he was constrained to share details with the media and referred this publication to Botswana government authorities.
Administration Manager at Kazungula Bridge Project, Hong Seouk Park, would also not be drawn into details, as he also referred further queries to Seone.
In a memo circulated among the employees, dated 5 March, Park stated that the company has been facing financial constraints due to continued non-payment by the employer, the governments of Botswana and Zambia.
Park said this has made it increasingly difficult to maintain the company’s running costs.
He said although Daewoo is committed to the success of the Kazungula Bridge Project, management has been forced to resort to other options.
Park warned that if Daewoo does not receive the US$14.84 million owed by next week, this month’s salaries might be delayed.
He advised employees, who are unsatisfied with this possible “delay of payments to kindly visit the Human Resources department to arrange for termination of their contracts before 9 March 2019.”
So, serious was the situation that Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi accompanied by Transport and Communications Minister, Dorcas Makgato, were forced to hold an emergency meeting at Kazungula and even toured the project.
Makgato conceded that the workers had downed tools for three days, because of a delay in the payment of their salaries.
While she did not provide details, Makgato said the contractor has promised them that the impasse has been resolved as workers resumed work.
Makgato said Botswana has since made payment for the project and Zambia was still lagging behind.
The minister also revealed that Masisi engaged his Zambian counterpart, President Edgar Lungu, requesting him to expedite payment.
Meanwhile, Zambian media reported that the Zambian government has assured Daewoo Engineering and Construction of its commitment in the completion of the Kazungula Bridge project.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure and Housing, Charles Mushota, was quoted as saying the financial commitment due from the government will be offset soon to avoid adverse impact on the progression rate of the construction.
The permanent secretary explained the project was of strategic importance to the two SADC countries and the region.
Mushota was also quoted as saying the completion of the Kazungula was in the best interest of Zambia as most of the country’s imports and exports will continue being routed through the transit point at Kazungula into and out of neighbouring Botswana to the wider region.
Mushota reportedly assured the contractor of its commitment to offset the over US$14 million debt to the company.
The contractor has since assured both governments of the project completion and delivery of at the expected time in 2020.
The US$259.3-million project was officially launched in September 2014 by then Vice-presidents of Zambia and Botswana, Dr Guy Scott, and Ponatshego Kedikilwe, respectively, and is financed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the two governments.
The bridge is being constructed at the Kazungula crossing, where Botswana and Zambia share a border measuring about 750 metres over the Zambezi River. It is also at the confluence of Zambezi and Chobe rivers, and the meeting point of the four southern African countries – Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The multi-million-dollar project was hailed as the SADC economic integration success stories, one of the missing links to realising the North-South Corridor identified under the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP).
The project is in line with the RIDMP. The scope of the Kazungula project includes a 923m bridge as well as one-stop border post facilities.
It is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.