July 27th, 2012

Maputo — The World Bank has admitted that it is largely to blame for the failure of the project to rehabilitate the Beira railway system.

The project dates back to 2003, and was intended to completely rehabilitate both the Sena line, running from Beira to the Moatize coal basin in Tete province, and the Machipanda line, from Beira to Zimbabwe.

This involved farming out management of the two lines to the Beira Railroad Company (CCFB), in which 51 per cent of the shares were held by the Indian consortium RICON (Rites and Icon International), and 49 per cent by the Mozambican port and rail company, CFM.

RICON was the dominant partner and was supposed to be in charge of the complete reconstruction of the Sena Line (which had ceased running in 1983, thanks to comprehensive sabotage by the apartheid-back Renamo rebels), and of bringing the Machipanda line up to scratch.

The World Bank was initially enthusiastic about the project, and backed it up with a loan of 104 million US dollars. The tender won by RICON was supervised by the World Bank and the award to RICON was approved by the bank. The concession contract between the government and Ricon/CCFB stated that the entire system should be rehabilitated by January 2009, and that RICON would not only manage CCFB, but would be the main contractor on rebuilding the Sena line and its bridges.

The Mozambican authorities, and CFM, soon began to sound the alarm. Ricon kept missing deadlines, and its work failed to observe technical standards. CFM and the Independent Engineer hired to assess progress both warned about these matters, but the World Bank was conspicuously silent – the Bank’s unit supervising the project took no notice of the warnings.

Ricon argued that it could not meet the January 2009 deadline for completing reconstruction of the Sena line because of the floods in the Zambezi valley in 2007 and 2008. So the government gave Ricon a further six months.

That deadline ran out, and the Sena line was still nowhere near complete. The government tried to switch the management of CCFB to CFM, but RICON used its majority on the CCFB board to block this.

When President Armando Guebuza made a state visit to India in 2010, he discussed the transfer of management power from RICON to CFM. The Indian government agreed, according to Transport Minister Paulo Zucula, but RICON still resisted. Finally, in December 2010 the Mozambican government decided to rescind the contract with RICON.

The World Bank has now issued an Implementation Completion and Results Report (ICR), dated 27 June, which is a damning indictment of the World Bank staff involved in the project. It describes the outcome of the project as “unsatisfactory”, the risk to development outcome as “substantial”, and the bank performance as “unsatisfactory”. The performance of the borrower (the Mozambican government) is described as “moderately unsatisfactory”.

The main project objectives were not remotely achieved. Thus the original goal was to have the Sena line able to carry one million tonnes of cargo a year by the end of 2009. In fact, the line was only opened to coal traffic on 8 August 2011, with freight running at 266,000 tonnes a year – just 27 per cent of the initial target 20 months late.

International traffic on the Machipanda line was supposed to rise from 480,000 tonnes a year in 2004 to 650,000 tonnes in 2009. In fact, if fell, by 2011, to 387,700 tonnes. “The potential for traffic on this line is good (and evidence by the increase in road traffic), but poor infrastructure prevents the railway from getting its share”, commented the ICR report.

All 317 kilometres of the Machipanda line were supposed to be rehabilitated. But in fact not a single kilometre was upgraded. “No rehabilitation and very little (if any) maintenance during the concession period”, remarked the report. “The Machipanda line has deteriorated further and is in fact in worse condition that at the start of the project”.

The overall reliability of the Beira rail system was supposed to improve substantially. The target was that the percentage of track under temporary restrictions should fall from 10 per cent in 2004 to two per cent in 2009. In fact, the figure rose to 16.6 per cent in 2011.

As the conflict between Ricon and the Mozambican authorities deepened, the World Bank’s Project Implementation Unit (PIU) ended up taking Ricon’s side, despite the clear evidence that it was in violation of its contractual obligations. The report admits that “The PIU eventually acted on behalf of the contractor. Despite all the documented delays, the contractor was never penalized”.

That was not the fault of the Mozambicans – the report adds that “all requests by CFM for the PIU to take action against the Contractor for poor execution of the works were ignored”.

One shocking example was that RICON was allowed to relax specifications for ballast to be used on the Sena line despite protests by both CFM and the Independent Engineer.

Furthermore, “the best skilled engineers were prematurely sent back home by the Concessionaire (CCFB), and subsequently replaced by incompetent staff, with the approval of the PIU. Despite repeated objections by the CFM and the Mozambican government, no action was taken to reverse these decisions”.

World Bank staff on the ground just covered up the problems. The report comes close to accusing them of lying to the Bank’s head office. It says “Remarkably, all of the Bank’s supervision reports during the critical stages (2005-2010) gave the project an overall rating of ‘satisfactory’ or ‘moderately satisfactory’. Despite the virulent correspondence between the parties to the contract and the persistent negative reports by the Independent Engineer, the project ratings were never revised and as a result corrective action was never taken”.

The report concludes that the Bank staff had no idea what they were doing – though it puts this in somewhat more diplomatic terms: “The Bank supervision team did not have the requisite engineering skills and competencies to make sense of the implications of the issues raised by the Independent Engineer”.

There were “significant discrepancies” between the Implementation Status Reports produced by the Bank staff and the reports from the Independent Engineer. Thus the Bank staff, in late 2007, were cheerfully forecasting that the Sena line’s first phase would open in early 2008, while at much the same time the Independent Engineer was warning that there was no chance to meet the completion deadlines.

Only when there was a change in the Bank’s supervision and management staff (in 2010) did the World Bank wake up to the seriousness of the situation. It was too late – the loan had already been disbursed.

There had been a chance to change course with the mid-term review in June 2008. By then the project had an alarming cost overrun of 50 million dollars, and construction work was around eight months behind schedule. But the Bank team excused the increase costs as “understandable”.

The ICR report notes “Rather than addressing the incompetence of the Concessionaire as a major bottleneck, the mid-term review pointed to the failure in negotiations over the coal tariff (which was a fairly recent development) and the threat of termination by he government as the main risk to Project progress. This was a missed opportunity to consider Project changes and re-direction”.

The overall message of the report is very clear – after a two year delay and cost overrun of over 50 million dollars, the key goals of the project were not met. The Sena line is not handling the expected level of traffic, and the condition of the Machipanda line is worse than before the project began.

The ICR report expresses a worry that the collapse of the CCFB concession “might trigger a negative perception of public-private partnerships in Mozambique that could reverberate to other sectors or even other countries in the region”.

The Bank is ideologically committed to public-private partnerships – but outsiders might note that the Beira Railway Project is just an extreme example of the recurrent theme in such partnerships that the public sector takes the risk while the private partner walks away with the profit.