The cost of the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway project may reduce from US$1.2 billion, depending on the scope of works, says the Road Development Agency (RDA).

Last month, Finance Minister Margaret Mwanakatwe said $1.2 billion was not the true figure of the construction of the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway, raising questions among stakeholders.

Speaking during the Zambia-South Africa Business Council Meeting, Mwanakatwe disputed the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway after indicating that government intended to revise the Public and Private Partnership Act in Parliament to make it more responsive to the country’s developmental needs.

“We need the private sector and we need locals to be part of that large medium small-scale infrastructure going forward. Our roads are being battered because of transportation of copper and as such we need rail. How do we ensure that TAZARA, the rail line, doesn’t take 21 days to get to the border? The private sector doesn’t not have 21 days. That is why you see us taking to Parliament the revised PPP (Public and Private Partnership) Act that we have. The Lusaka-Ndola dual carriage way is a PPP project that is being dubbed at US $1.2 billion. I think that is not a true figure, I think a true figure is going to be arrived at and this is what we want to see more,” said Mwanakatwe.

Following that revelation, other stakeholders started questioning the true value of the controversial project.

International trade researcher and consultant Trevor Simumba said Mwanakatwe’s admission validated his research findings, which found that the project was likely to cost far less than the disputed figure.

But in an interview, RDA director of communications and corporate affairs Masuzyo Ndhlovu insisted that those claiming the cost of the road project was unjustifiably escalated from $100 million to $1.2 billion were making “defective claims”.

“Of course, in terms of scope of work, when you are working on a major project like that, you could have an estimate. The figure we have been talking about is an estimate and an estimate then means that as the project goes on, it can vary. Varying means that the figure can also come down because of certain things. Obviously, at the planning stage, you have all these other things that you would want to include, but as you go on, you start realizing [that] is this really important? Is it worth it? Maybe, why can’t we downscale some of these? And so in doing that, you find even that projected figure goes down. But that is the estimate,” Ndhlovu said.

Asked if there was a possibility that the estimated cost could reduce, Ndhlovu responded in the affirmative.

“Yes there is a possibility. I don’t want to give you a clear-cut answer to say are we revising it, [but] I think estimates that were made and approximations that were made are at $1.2 billion. There is a possibility, yes, depending on the scope of works because when you look at projects, you can decide…even in a home you can have a budget [to say] this is what we want to do, we want to buy this and that, but you can reduce some of those things to suit what money one could have or to suit certain things. So, possibilities are there that that figure of $1.2 [billion] can still go down if you have reduced works, for instance. If we decide, for instance, [that] we make the entire road a dual carriageway, we decide that, maybe, the by-pass at Fisangano should not be a dual carriageway, let it be a single carriage, already, you are reducing on the cost. So, depending on how things go on, you know in road construction there are a lot of factors that are taken into consideration. So, there are times when decisions are made to say; ‘I think here, we can do this or we can make a saving.’ In most cases, figures will come up, but as you go on because of the many other different factors, you then start scaling down,” he explained.

He said people should not forget that the project also includes clearing and compensation of utility lines such as Zesco, Zamtel, water and sewerage lines.

“So, [revising that cost] depends on the scope of works that is why I said that, as you go on in the actual planning and all that, there are certain things you can do away with, which can bring that figure down. But obviously, for us, we are looking at this as an economic road and so there are certain features that were added to this entire stretch. And so in the process, this is why this figure went up to that much. And let us also not forget that even as we work on these roads, there are what are known as ‘utility lines’, there is relocation, for instance, of utility lines [such as] Zesco, Zamtel, be it the water and sewerage, because there are also pipes. So, you have all those cleared, not only that, there are also structures, which are on the road reserves. So, those structures, to a larger extent, will be demolished and even as you demolish those structures, you need to somehow compensate those structures’ owners. So, it’s a whole inclusive exercise. And this is how big this entire project is,” Ndhlovu narrated.

Responding to claims by Simumba that the RDA’s own project estimate was calculated at K930 million, or roughly equivalent to US $100 million with 29 per cent estimated economic returns, Ndhlovu said RDA found Simumba’s research findings “very defective”, insisting that there was a lot involved in the overall project package.

“We found that the findings by Trevor Simumba are very defective in that it never tallied with whatever calculations, I don’t know what it was based on and what he was using for those measurements. So, it was difficult to comment even on the percentage he used, the expected economic return and things of that nature that he was bringing up. But again, there were other direct issues you raised like…our area of concentration will be mainly the core road works, which is the 642 Km stretch, but of course it goes on beyond because there are also by-pass roads. There is a by-pass road in Kabwe, there is a by-pass road in Kapiri Mposhi and then there is also a by-pass road in Luanshya at the Luanshya turn-off, the famous Fisenge-Masangano Road, which is about 45 Km. And then the other by-pass road is about 20 Km and 20 Km. So, when you add [those kilometres], they come to something like 722 Km in total in terms of length,” explained Ndhlovu.

“But when people are looking at this stretch, Lusaka-Ndola, they just look at the 321 Km stretch, because when you talk about dual carriageway, you are talking about two roads going to Ndola, and another two roads coming from Ndola to Lusaka. So, when you combine the two, it’s like you have done two roads. So that is why it’s called dual carriageway. So, when you combine those two, it comes to 642 Km. But then, there are also the by-pass roads that will equally be dual and then when you add on all those, it comes to approximately 722 Km. Now, our area of focus will be, of course, the core road network and apart from that, there are also auxiliary structures that will be put up. Some basic infrastructure where people can set up businesses, like for instance; filling stations and other different economic businesses, the private sector can get involved, open up restaurants and things like that. So, this entire package is bringing about all those things, which are auxiliaries.”