INFRASTRUCTURE, Housing, and Urban Development Minister Charles Milupi says government is aggressively pursuing public private partnerships for road infrastructure because it can’t afford to increase debt, revealing that investors are actually making unsolicited bids.

And Milupi says the UPND administration put themselves under pressure to deliver when they were campaigning to get into office.

Meanwhile, Milupi says Zambia will have a deficit of three million housing units by 2030.

Speaking when he featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, Milupi said the high cost of infrastructure was part of the reason why Zambia was a heavily indebted country.

“This was one of the core issues even as we campaigned as UPND Alliance that the cost of infrastructure in Zambia was excessive. When we came into government, the figures that were really brought to the fore, [we realised] that the problem was much worse than what we had thought. In terms of roads, we find that right now we owe about K127 billion on certified works. In terms of the cost of this infrastructure, especially on roads and in fact even houses, we find that the per unit cost had migrated upwards to a figure in excess of $1.2 million per kilometer. We know that figure is excessive because we have compared it to elsewhere. On the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway, the figure of $1.26 billion is excessive. This was given out as a country and government was going to use their money to pay the contractor,” he said.

“A down payment had already been made of about $30 million. What this means now is that this high cost of infrastructure is part of the reason why Zambia is a heavily indebted country. Contractors are owed some of this debt and to take it back will take years, maybe 30 to 40 years. The President has mandated that infrastructure projects must be done at the right cost, right standard and timely. When we came into office, we put our foot down and said that this cost is outrageous and excessive. That cost of 1.26 billion is excessive and contractors have come back to us. I am not referring to the one who got the contract but other reputable contractors. They have indicated to us about the figures and provided even higher quality materials.”

Milupi clarified that the Chipata-Vubwi road was not commercially viable for a public private partnership.

“I did not use the term economically viable in reference to the Chipata-Vubwi road. It was as a result of my visit to Eastern Province recently. Having inspected the Katete-Chanida road and the Mwami border post. One of the biggest issues this current government has is to manage the debt so we cannot afford to increase that debt. So we are aggressively pursuing public private partnerships. For that, investors are coming in with what we call unsolicited bids. The term I used was commercially viable for PPP basis. In other words, no private investor can come and put up that infrastructure, put up a toll gate and recoup their money in a particular period,” he said.

“You cannot do a PPP on Chipata-Vubwi and Chipata-Chadiza because it is not commercially viable. This means you cannot get your investment back. It was just mischief. The PF administration recouped the Chipata-Vubwi-Chadiza road from bituminous road to gravel road. Part of my remit was to carry out an assessment of what roads can be done under PPP. My assessment is you cannot do those roads on PPP. But I think it was wrong to recoup them to gravel. My instruction was that this must be taken back to bituminous standard.”

And Milupi said the UPND administration put themselves under pressure to deliver when they were campaigning to get into office.

“We are under pressure to move this country forward in every aspect. We put ourselves under pressure when we were campaigning. The President said we want to reunite this country so that anyone feels part and parcel. We have to bring rule of law and we have seen that. You saw the last election campaign, you didn’t see us with flags flying around and cadres but we were able to interact. We are back to being a normal country. You steal and you are corrupt, you are dealt with. We want to ensure we rebuild the economy. I think we shall be getting much better growth than we have gotten in the past. This is what will affect everybody. And I think if the Zambian people support the current President, we shall turn this country around,” he said.

“There is what we call the PPP council which is chaired by the Ministry of Finance and I am a member. We are working flat out. One of the first ones I think when we achieve financial closure very quickly, is one that speaks to government’s desire to foster trade between nations. That is the Mwenda-Kasomeno road and bridge upon the Luapula river. That is from DRC to Luapula River with a bridge on it and one stop border post and a road going in. That road is going to open up so that trucks coming from Nakonde can go through Northern Province into Luapula and go into DRC. That has a chance to be the first one. The Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway has a chance to be the first one. First we have to address issues to do with the first contractor. It is a very critical road and it is in a very bad state. I am inviting those that are interested to take up some of these issues.”

Meanwhile, Milupi said government was looking at certain standard designs so that anyone constructing a house could have access to it at an affordable cost.

“Currently, we have a deficit of 1.5 million units and we think that by 2030 this will rise to 3 million units. This is with urban and peri-urban housing. If you look at the rural setup, the standards of some houses are such that I think we need to expand in terms of what we want to do. The covid pandemic has brought out certain issues of requiring to have e-learning but imagine those in remote village housing. So as we expand, we need to come up with a standard design of houses that can be used even in rural areas so that those houses have access to off grid electricity. We have been five months in power but there isn’t a suitable time to say maybe we need to wait. So mechanisms have already started to begin to address [the situation],” said Milupi.

“We have people in our Ministry looking at certain designs in addition to standard designs for teachers’ housing in remote places. The overriding design is to come up with costs that are affordable both to government and villagers. I think it will serve us right as a country when we say ‘if you want to build a house here is a standard design which is affordable’. This storm Ana has really woken us up. If you look throughout the country, there has been devastation. Bridges have been washed away, houses have been brought down and I think it has given us the impetus to do what needs to be done quicker. But I think it has to be done in stages so that it is done properly. The first thing is to have these standard designs so that anyone constructing a house can have access to it. This is what we are doing at the Ministry.”