Yes, Zambia has undergone tremendous change in every aspect of human endeavour since attaining political independence from Britain on October 24, 1964.
But potholes and corruption were alien to our culture then. It was not easy though but things were manageable….
This is what came to mind when I reflected on the prices of various commodities as I drove past what used to be known as Peart and Sons Motor Vehicle Dealers, which in the 1970s was located on Ndola’s President Avenue directly opposite the current Puma Filling Station.
Prices of most goods and services were relatively low nearly everyone in active employment or small-scale businesses could afford to pay in cash or save in order to buy whatever he/she wanted, including motor vehicles.
Hire purchase facilities were also available to customers who could afford to pay only by monthly bank installments.
Having said that, I would like to let the readers know that this write-up is not about prices of various goods and services in post independence years, but it is an attempt to show in part that the prices of motor vehicles were generally not as prohibitive as they are today.
Can you imagine buying a brand new car for as little as K1,500? Yes, I managed to get one after raising K750 deposit.
As indicated above, this write-up is also meant to demonstrate that although most roads were smaller then they were however smooth due to regular maintenance by district councils or the government’s Public Works Department (PWD) as it was commonly known, especially in the Federal days (1953-1963).
Copper mining companies NCCM and RCM on the Copperbelt also ensured that roads in residential and plant areas were regularly maintained.
As a result, the word ‘pothole’ was virtually non-existent or unknown to most of us.
But now it is as ‘famous’ as the hard-to-come-by Kwacha. Why?
By the way before I could buy ‘the car of my dream’, I was told in no uncertain terms by the car dealers that I had to produce a driver’s licence first or forget it because they never sold to unlicensed drivers.
So I had to go to a local driving school along Chisokone Road called Blue Monday before obtaining my driver’s licence from the Ndola City Council (NCC) in September, 1971.
Owned by a Zimbabwean ‘exile, Blue Monday driving school was located at an open space where the new Bus Station, which is opposite Shoprite/Pick ‘n’ Pay, has been built.
Under close supervision of government-appointed inspectors, instructors played by the rules.
Some would vanish after accepting the trainee’s ‘mandatory’ cash deposit, but when they resurface, their training was unquestionably of a high standard. Charlatans were few.
I must confess that I twice failed my driving test – which included ‘uphill parking’ and ‘emergency braking’ – not because officials wanted me to grease their palms. Policy implementation/enforcement was strict; driving school instructors were strict; examiners were strict; and even traffic police officer were strict.
Every stakeholder was simply strict. Hence road accidents and fatalities were few. The country’s population was also relatively small, about four million then.
But the picture is now totally different because we (as a nation) seem to have lost the plot. Some officials want you to ‘do something’ before they can serve you the customer, the taxpayer.
On my way to what used to be Chilanga Cement in Ndola recently, someone said something that I thought had some ring of truth. Few people and even industry captains with the financial muscle seem unwilling to take responsibility.
For example, during my learner-driving days, my private instructor, Geoff Cole, a former Northern Technical College (Nortec) lecturer often took me on the Chipulukusu (now Mapalo)-Chilanga-Chiwala-Ndeke road for my driving practices.
Geoff preferred this route because it was not only quiet in terms of traffic volumes, but it was also tarred from the Chilanga-Kabwe Road T-junction while the old gravel section near the Ndola Boating and Sailing Club was regularly graded.
But I found driving on this route for the first time in nearly 35 years two weeks ago a nasty experience. It pained me because this road (part of which leads to nearby Chiwala Secondary School that produced leaders like the late President Levy Mwanawasa and former vice president Christon Tembo) is no longer as passable as it used to be in the 1970s.
This is despite the fact that many local and foreign entrepreneurs have set up their brick-making, cement and lime manufacturing plants along this road which, if properly maintained, could be a vital artery for motorists/transporters seeking alternative routes into the City of Ndola particularly from East Africa, central Zambia and beyond.
Upon inquiring I was informed that some ‘investors’ were unprepared to spend their resources on such maintenance because they pay taxes to Government so they were waiting for the ‘Government to repair the road’.
I found this state of affairs unfortunate because road users – transporters and ordinary citizens who buy some of the essential building/construction materials they need like cement, lime, sand and stones – are suffering, as their vehicles get damaged due to the poor state of the road. It has developed so many potholes driving on it is almost impossible.
It was, therefore, pleasing to learn that at least one of the companies in Ndola’s ‘new economic zone’ helps in ensuring the stretch between the old Chilanga Cement factory and Chipulukusu railway crossing is graded at frequent intervals. It is rocky but navigable.
Aware of Government’s ambitious road construction and rehabilitation programme, I remembered a story I wrote three years ago for a publication based in Gaborone, entitled: ‘Road network: Zambia takes a leaf from Botswana’.
The report read: ‘The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party of Zambia seems to be following in Botswana’s foot steps in its concerted effort to link various parts of this vast Southern African Development Community (SADC) nation with a modern and durable road network.
The country’s Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda told Parliament that K6.07 billion, or 14.2 per cent of the Budget, has been allocated to the transport sector to construct, rehabilitate and maintain road, rail, water and air infrastructure. He said K5.13 billion of this amount is earmarked for the Link Zambia 8000 Programme, Pave Zambia 2000 project, the Lusaka 400 project and feeder roads in the rural areas.
With regard to the rail subsector, Government has allocated K339.8 million to recapitalise Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) railway system and rehabilitate Zambia Railways Limited. The quality of rail travel for both goods and the public will improve and the negative impact on the nation’s roads from heavy commercial traffic will be mitigated.
The minister also revealed that K250 million had been set aside for other critical interventions in the transport sector. These include the procurement of radars to bring Zambia’s air safety levels to world standards, and dredging equipment and water vessels to improve water transport in the country.
He said the PF, which came to power in 2011, is determined to succeed where the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) had failed after governing the country for 20 years (1991-2011), which is why President Michael Sata’s administration had set aside K10.73 billion or 25.1 percent of the Budget for General Public Services which includes allocations for infrastructure development for the new districts, intergovernmental fiscal transfers and debt payments. Combined, these three account for 56.5 percent of this allocation.
To ensure that people in remote and underdeveloped areas do not remain peripheral to the country’s development efforts, K550 million has been set aside for infrastructure development in the newly created districts and the new provincial capitals, namely Choma (Southern) and Chinsali (Northern).
A further K836.6 million has been allocated for transfers to Local Authorities and includes K210 million for the Constituency Development Fund. With regard to debt management, a total of K4.65 billion has been set aside to settle domestic and external debt payments
Zambia, with a land area in excess of three quarters of a million square kilometers, has less than 10 percent of this land on title. In order to bring sanity in land administration and management as well as entrench security of tenure for land owners, the PF administration has allocated K100 million to undertake the National Land Audit and the National Titling Programme. The National Titling Programme will regularise the registration of land, ensuring that owners have title deeds and enhance their ability to access credit. Further, the programme will increase revenues for government.
Zambia, which gained independence on October 24, 1964, will celebrate her 50th independence anniversary next year, and Chikwanda told the House that in order to consolidate “our robust economic growth trajectory and improve our people’s standard of living” he had allocated K11.94 billion to economic sectors, representing 28.0 percent of the Budget.
Given its importance to overall economic development, the minister stated that K3.08 billion or 7.2 percent of the Budget, had been allocated to the agriculture sector. Of this amount, 51 percent is earmarked for programmes that can make the diversification of the sector a reality.
Key interventions include the countrywide construction of dip tanks and silos for which an allocation of K231.9 million has been provided. The target is to increase the number dip tanks to combat animal disease and increase grain storage capacity to 1.3 million metric tonnes by the end of 2014. In addition, K80.9 million has been allocated to develop irrigated agriculture.
Chikwanda has also allocated K500 million for the Farmer Input Support Programme to facilitate the provision of affordable crop and livestock inputs for our small scale farmers.
To secure and maintain the 500,000 metric tonnes of strategic food reserves, K1.0 billion has been set aside in the 2014 Budget.
Crucially to help fight the crippling power shortage being experienced in most if not all SADC countries, Chikwanda announced the Government continues to work with the private sector to increase installed electricity generation capacity and improve the transmission infrastructure.
In this regard, the extension of the Kariba North Bank Power Station will add 360 megawatts of hydro power to the installed capacity. By the end of this year, 180 megawatts will be added and the balance will come on stream in 2014. In addition, the Ndola Energy heavy fuel generating project is nearing completion and will contribute 50 megawatts by the end of this year.
He recalled that last year, he had revealed that Government was working with strategic private partners to develop the Itezhi-tezhi and Kafue Gorge Lower power stations. With respect to Itezhitezhi, financing has been secured and works have progressed, whilst for the Kafue Gorge Lower power station, the tender process to engage a strategic equity partner is in progress. Itezhi-tezhi is expected to come on stream in 2015 with 120 megawatts, while the Kafue Gorge Lower power station with the capacity of 750 megawatts is expected to come on stream in 2019.
To support these investments, Government will continue with its policy of attaining cost reflective electricity tariffs while ensuring efficient service delivery.
With regard to fuel, two provincial fuel depots will be completed this year and a third in 2014, with installations in other provinces to follow thereafter.
While efforts to upgrade Indeni Oil Refinery at Ndola will continue in 2014, Government will also explore other options, including construction of a new refinery with sufficient capacity to meet the ever increasing demand of the country’s robust economy with surpluses for export.’
One may want to argue that the dynamics have changed since then but all the same, I found the report refreshing as it served as a reminder that there is hope for a turn-around, especially if Mr Chikwanda’s 2013 projections come to fruition. It is true much has taken place since then in terms of national reconstruction and the fight against corruption and other vices.
Already new Local Government and Housing Minister Stephen Kampyongo has demonstrated that Government intends to get tough with officers found wanting while his Home Affairs counterpart Mwila has similarly warned that any ‘corrupt’ officer under his watch risks the boot.
I believe most will agree that Government has done some commendable work in the area of infrastructure development but all these, including roads and bridges, will need regular and competent maintenance or lose everything due to corruption and neglect.
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