CHIPATA, May 8 - Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EPCCI) chairman George Chabwera has advised government to lease or sell off major roads to enhance their sustainable management.
And a team of foreign consultants is this month expected in Chipata to conduct a feasibility study on the Chipata-Mchinji Railway project.
In an interview on Wednesday, Dr. Chabwera noted the government had no capacity to maintain the road network hence the need to offer them to the private sector.
"Since the government lacks the capacity to maintain the road network sustainably, they should convert the major roads into toll roads and sell them at a discount to toll road managers," he said.
"The other thing is that the government should make yearly allocations to work on specific portions of roads as opposed to waiting until the whole road is gone and then try to find US$20 million or US $30 million to re-work the whole road."
Dr. Chabwera stressed that the problem of infrastructure, especially roads, was hindering development in the province as it raised the cost of doing business.
"Roads are very important because they offer access to both raw materials and the market. If they are not good, especially on the input side, the cost of raw materials goes up and this is translated into higher than necessary product costs," he explained.
"Even when marketing, bad roads mean accessing the market is expensive. For example, the Great East Road, Chipata-Lundazi Road, Chipata-Mfuwe Road and the one to Chadiza are all impassable roads which need urgent attention."
And Dr. Chabwera disclosed that five consultants are due to arrive this month to study the Chipata-Mchinji Railway project, in a bid to justify the investment before actual capital commitments are made.
He reported good progress on the project adding that once finalized, it would open up new opportunities for the province.
The Chipata-Mchinji Railway would link Chipata to Mchinji in Malawi, thus opening up Zambia's shortest route to the sea.
Dr. Chabwera said the Overseas Private Investment Corporation has given US $29 million to Northern Corridor Corporation, whose subsidiary Ero runs Malawi Rail, to rehabilitate the rail line from Mchinji to Nacala and that part of the money would go to extend the line to Chipata.
"And when this happens, we can look at connecting Chipata with Tazara so that we extend the network further. This will open up the whole region to new investments," he said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Chabwera has warned that the vision of a private sector-led economy would not materialize unless the government showed more serious commitment to fostering the sector's growth.
He said that while the business community appreciated the fall in interest rates, the government needed to do much more to promote local investment.
"The government should consider all avenues of encouraging private sector growth. For example, there is an urgent need to deal with the harsh taxation regime that is currently obtaining," Dr. Chabwera said.
"There is also need to identify areas of greatest potential and encourage investment in those areas so as to expand private sector investment. Now is the time to move away from lip service and practically address the issues," he said.