Mpho Tebele & Jeff Kapembwa
Gaborone/Lusaka – In an effort to save the multi-billion-dollar Kazungula bridge project, Botswana and Zambia have agreed to bring in Namibia and Zimbabwe as equity partners.
The two southern African neighbours are jointly constructing a 750-metre bridge at Kazungula crossing over the Zambezi River. It is being constructed at the confluence of Zambezi and Chobe rivers, the meeting point of Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Once completed, the Kazungula Bridge is expected to facilitate seamless trade within the SADC region.
But the US$294-million project, touted as one of the major SADC economic integration success stories, has been experiencing delays partly due to lack of finance.
However, President of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, and his Botswana counterpart, Mokgweetsi Masisi, have reiterated their commitment to the completion of the bridge, hence they want to bring in more partner countries.
President Lungu hosted Masisi in Lusaka on Tuesday to discuss the plight of the Kazungula project.
Masisi held talks with Lungu during which they discussed progress towards the completion of the bridge, which links the two neighbouring countries and the rest of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
They have since reaffirmed their desire to incorporate other neighbours, including Namibia, in the project as the bridge has potential to benefit that country and create employment in the region.
Lungu said they have embraced the idea of having equity shareholding with Zimbabwe on condition that they meet the financial obligations to co-own the project.
The two leaders further underscored the need to expedite the construction of the bridge, expected to be completed and commissioned before the end of next year.
The closed-door meeting resolved to include Namibia and ensure all the formalities relating to the completion of the project are done and completed on schedule in 2020.
Masisi also stated that his visit to Zambia was intended to reinforce the confidence in the construction of Kazungula Bridge and ensure the contractor resumes work. All outstanding obligations to the contractor have since been met.
The meeting in Lusaka comes amid reports that the contractor, Daewoo Engineering Company, has been threatening to pull out of the project due to non-payment by the project promoters.
Botswana said it has been paying its fees for the joint construction of the bridge while Zambia has not.
Botswana’s Minister for Transport, Dorcus Makgato, earlier confirmed to parliament in Gaborone that Daewoo International last month issued a contractually-enforceable notice to suspend work on the bridge project.
This was a result of delayed or non-payment of amounts due from the employer who, in this case, is a 50/50 joint partnership between the governments of Botswana and Zambia.
“Necessary consultations have since taken place, and the employer has moved swiftly to correct by paying all the arrears, and obtaining the contractor’s agreement to not only lift the prevailing suspension conditions ‑ which have, lately, been in force, but also to assure that the project will be delivered to the required standards and specifications by 2020,” said Makgato.
She said US$16.62 million, which was overdue, is in the process of being transmitted to Daewoo International.
“As minister with portfolio responsibility, and having been directly involved with my Zambian counterpart regarding discussions and agreements to dissolve the impasse — I am pleased to further announce that: an added control measure, with direct ministerial oversight, has, effective 28 March 2019, been put in place to ensure that such disruptions are avoided in the future,” the minister has said.