STATE-OWNED National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) has requested to be the sole transporter of about 400 000 metric tonnes of government maize imports from Zambia.
The government, together with the private sector, plans to buy about 700 000 metric tonnes of maize imports to cater for deficits as a result of a poor harvest last season.
The country’s, human and livestock maize consumption is pegged at about 2,4 million metric tonnes annually.
The ailing parastatal’s acting general manger Lewis Mukwada told delegates at the Zimbabwe Food Conference and Expo in Bulawayo on Friday that the quasi-government institution was efficient enough to transport maize imports from Zambia.
“We have been moving maize for Grain Marketing Board especially in the southern part of the country and I believe we can play a bigger role in the delivering maize imports from Zambia,” he said.
However, his plea was quashed by the event organiser and Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) chairman, Tafadzwa Musarara who revealed that they once engaged NRZ to transport their wheat, but failed due to viability challenges.
He, however, said they would look at the issue.
Musarara said the country was looking forward to bring about 450 000 metric tonnes of maize imports from Zambia and the rest from South America.
He said the country was in trouble and a swift response was needed.
NRZ, which narrowed its losses in the full-year to December 2013 by 7% to $49 million, is saddled with a $144 million debt and government is negotiating with the Development Bank of South Africa for a loan of up to $700 million to fund its rehabilitation.
Poor business and failure to recapitalise has left the parastatal facing a bleak future.
The ailing parastatal reported in the annual report for 2013 that its revenue fell by 5% to $86,2 million.
Administration expenses shot up to $61,3 million from $47,2 million while finance costs were down to $1,6 million from $2,1 million the previous year.
The workers, who have gone for over 13 months without getting paid and are owed $68 million, told Parliament in June that the company was top-heavy, noting that in 1999 NRZ had one general manager and three assistant general managers presiding over 12 000 employees while moving 18 million tonnes of goods annually.
Currently, it has one acting general manager, five directors and several managers who superintendent 6 000 employees while moving cargo that is nearly 80% down on the 1999 levels, accounting for the increase in administration costs.
The unions then asked government to review public private partnership agreements with logistics giant, Grindrod Limited, which they say were not benefiting the company.
In 2013, Grindrod bought an 85% stake in the Bulawayo-Beitbridge Railway (BBR) through its subsidiary, New Limpopo Projects Investments and entered into an agreement with government and the NRZ to service and market the 470km rail link between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls to provide a North-South corridor.
Workers said the corridor was NRZ’s cash cow, and the agreement deprived it of a viable business route and exacerbating operational challenges.