Railway project still up for grabs

Minister for Works, Transport and Communications, Prof Makame Mbarawa

What you need to know:

President Magufuli never touched on China’s role in the multi-billion dollar project, but his public invitation of Turkey triggered the assumption that Beijing had been side-lined in the deal

Dar es Salaam. The government has explained that it is yet to enter into any exclusive deal with any country or company with regard to the funding and implementation of the project to upgrade the Central Railway Line to a standard gauge.

This was revealed yesterday by the Minister for Works, Transport and Communications, Prof Makame Mbarawa, in an exclusive interview with The Citizen.

Earlier this week, during the visit by Turkey leader Recep Erdogan, President John Magufuli revealed that Ankara has been invited to construct a total of 400km of the infrastructure. Although President Magufuli did not touch on China’s role in the multi-billion dollar project, his public invitation of Turkey triggered the assumption that Beijing had been side-lined in the deal.

However, Prof Mbarawa told The Citizen that the government was yet to strike any deal with any country with regard to the funding or execution of the projects.

According to Prof Mbarawa, the government was currently still at the tendering process.

“As of now, I can’t reveal to you which company or from which country the firm to implement the project is; you should wait until the tendering process is completed,” said Prof Mbarawa.

The minister added that many firms from across the world have submitted their bids. However, the winner, according to him, was yet to be obtained.

And, in a bid to fast-track the implementation of the project, the minister hinted that the government was planning to hire several contractors. According to him, each contractor would be allocated a section to handle.

“We’ll hire multiple contractors as a way of ensuring that we complete the project within the specified timeframe,” said Prof Mbarawa.

He dismissed the claims that President Magufuli had cancelled the deal to acquire the $7.6 billion (Sh17 trillion) loan from Exim Bank of China over allegations that it was marred by corruption.

Prof Mbarawa dubbed the claims seditious and urged the public to ignore them.

“There is no grain of truth in the circulating reports because, first of all, we don’t have any written deal with the said bank to acquire the loan and secondly, the President didn’t take the alleged action,” said Prof Mbarawa.

The minister further said that the government would seek to acquire loans from various sources because the aim is to make sure the project would be implemented smoothly, free from funding bottlenecks.

“We are in need of money, so we don’t have the luxury to choose who should give us loans; we will take the facility from whoever is ready to give us one,” he explained.

Initially, China appeared to have struck the deal to undertake the construction through a consortium of its companies and pledged $7.6 billion for the entire project.

According to Prof Mbarawa, since there was no signed deal with Beijing over the project yet, no agreement had been broken.

President Magufuli and President Erdogan did not allude to the Chinese role but the public acknowledgement meant Turkey was almost assured of its participation in the railway project.

Even if Ankara happens to win the 400km stretch, all would not be lost for Beijing because, since the whole project entails over 1300 km, some 900 km of the standard gauge railway project would still be up for grabs.

In July 2016, the State House announced that Exim Bank of China had agreed to provide the concessional loan to finance the construction of the standard gauge railway, which would start in this financial year.

The announcement followed talks between Dr Magufuli and Exim Bank President Liu Liange at the State Lodge in Tanzania’s administrative capital Dodoma.

The government has even set aside, in its current budget, a total of Sh1 trillion, money coming from domestic sources, for initial processes related to the project.

The planned standard gauge railway line will improve regional trade and help to boost the economies of Tanzania and its landlocked neighbours including Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).