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Kwekwe in multi-million-dollar road rehabilitation storm

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Kwekwe in multi-million-dollar road rehabilitation storm

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KWEKWE City Council in the Midlands has failed to account for millions of dollars poured into the local authority for the rehabilitation of roads amid revelations that  politically connected companies were contracted without following procurement procedures.

BRENNA MATENDERE

Kwekwe in multi-million-dollar road rehabilitation, flagrant violation of procurement regulations

A schedule obtained by this publication from the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) revealed that Kwekwe municipality was allocated a total of  ZW$68 258 834.18 (US$400 000) under the 2022 first-quarter disbursement of the Emergency Roads Rehabilitation Programme (ERRP 2.)

The money was part of a total fund of ZW$5 billion (US$29 million) distributed countrywide to towns and rural district councils for the rehabilitation of roads.

However, investigations by this publication with the support of a partnership between the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe Investigative Journalism Fund and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) revealed that there was flagrant violation of procurement regulations in the absence of consultation with stakeholders.

It emerged that while the roads in question were only partially rehabilitated, full payments were received for the project. The roads involved include those which connect the Kwekwe city centre with Mbizo, the light industries as well as the low-density suburb of Msasa. Other roads in Amaveni were part of the project. The last road in question is that which stretches from Msasa turnoff, going past Kwekwe Polytechnic College and ending in Mbizo suburb.

In 1999, Zimbabwe adopted the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act [Chapter 22:23] which regulates how local authorities such as Kwekwe should spend public funds allocated to them for major projects such as road rehabilitation in order to curtail abuse.

The normal procedure is that major projects must be advertised to allow interested companies to bid in a fair process so that the best bidders are selected for any contract. 

The law, which derives from an Act of Parliament, says in its preamble that it aims to provide for “control and regulation of public procurement and the disposal of public assets so as to ensure that such procurement and disposal is effected in a manner that is transparent, fair, honest, cost effective and competitive”.

Section 31 of the law provides for competitive bidding in such projects as road construction.

 “The competitive bidding method of procurement entails a process in which- (a) a bidding document is published in accordance with Section 38; and (b) all eligible and qualified bidders are permitted without discrimination to submit their bids; and (c) all bids from eligible and qualified bidders are assessed according to the same criteria,” section 31 states.

However, investigations into Kwekwe City Council have revealed that this provision was violated to give the contracts to preferred companies.

Lucia Mnkandla, the acting Kwekwe town clerk and head of the procurement committee, failed to explain how the ZW$68 million road fund allocated to the municipality was used. She also dodged questions on the names of companies awarded the contracts.

Initially she said she was attending a meeting. Subsequently she referred questions to a junior official.

“I’m not clear about what you are asking,” she said. “There appears to be some misinformation.”

Asked whether the municipality went to tender for the repair of roads, she responded in the affirmative. She, however, would not provide any evidence.

Our investigations revealed that two little-known Harare companies, whose names the town clerk appeared reluctant to disclose, were granted the tenders.

The two companies are Zada Construction Company and Birthday Construction and Earthmoving Company.

Zada Construction Company is located at number 12910 Kirkman Road, Madokero, Tynwald, Harare.

Birthday Construction Company is listed as being located at 1154 Faber Road, corner Lorraine Drive in Bluff Hill, Harare.

Physical visits to these locations, however, drew blanks. The gates were locked in each case.

Both Zada Construction and Birthday Construction do not have digital footprints such as websites or online links to previous contracts.

The phone numbers appearing in the online directory of businesses are not functional, while the Econet numbers do not show the names of the owners on the money transfer service, EcoCash.

During this investigation, the files of the two companies could not be located at the Registrar of Companies in Harare.

Both Kwekwe Central MP Judith Tobaiwa and Mbizo legislator Settlement Chikwinya are in the dark over the ZW$68 million road construction fund awarded to the Midlands city.

Chikwinya is also the secretary for transport in the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change party.

He has since submitted written questions to Parliament for the transport minister, Felix Mhona, to explain details of the murky deals in Kwekwe.

According to parliamentary standing rules, MPs can ask any written specific questions to ministers. The respective ministers are allowed at least two weeks to come up with comprehensive responses after researching on the specific issues raised. 

Minister Mhona is yet to respond.

Details of the written questions which will soon appear on Parliament’s order paper demand that the minister provide Parliament with: “A schedule of roads rehabilitated under the ERRP 2 in Kwekwe City Council; the amount allocated per each road; the details of the company that undertook the rehabilitation work, including the names of the company and names of the directors; proof of tender process under which the companies that did work in Kwekwe City Council went through.”

Chikwinya confirmed having submitted the questions even though they are yet to be responded to.

“The reason why we are asking the questions and especially the names of company directors is that there is suspicion that the contracts were given to companies with close connections to the First Family and especially the sons (of the First Family) whom we normally see hanging around in Kwekwe,” said Chikwinya. “We suspect that they were given these contracts without proper tender processes, without enough capacity and enough knowledge to carry out the projects.”

“Because the money was given to companies with close connections to the First Family, this is why they did sub-standard work without reprimand. These may be people who had supper and dinner with the First Family.”

The Central Mechanical Engineering Department (CMED) is a wholly state-owned enterprise established in terms of the Central Equipment Department (Commercialisation) Act Number 14 of 2 000 which outlines its core functions as transport and equipment hire services.

Its other tasks are procurement of vehicles on behalf of the government; fuel supply; driver training and certification of government drivers. 

It is also responsible for administration of the Transport Purchase Fund on behalf of the Public Service Commission and Treasury.

However, investigations revealed that in Kwekwe, the department was contracted to repair roads under unclear terms.

The government department which ordinarily repairs roads is the District Development Fund (DDF) engineering sector.

On 4 February 2022, Mhona visited Kwekwe to inspect the roads.

He condemned all the roads upon inspection. He promised that the contractors would be punished and blacklisted, but no action has been taken.

Chikwinya revealed the mood of the people of Kwekwe regarding the inconclusive road projects.

“The people of Kwekwe pray that the companies redo the road rehabilitation work at their own cost and that the directors of the companies be arrested for misrepresenting themselves before government that they have capacity to rehabilitate the roads knowing that they did not,” said MP Chikwinya.

“The people also pray that the administrators of the road tender processes be arrested for awarding tenders to people who do not deserve them. It is high time we begin to criminally prosecute any corrupt tendencies that impact on public funds so that in future any public fund is accounted for since it is taxpayers’ money which is hard earned.”

Mhona did not respond to a request for a comment on the issue of the Kwekwe road rehabilitation programme or to a request for an appointment to discuss the issue.

The Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA), an anti-graft organisation based in Kwekwe but with a scale of operations that spread to 16 Sadc countries, said it was appalled by the scandal.

“We are aware of the roads debacle in Kwekwe,” said Munyaradzi Bhidi, the ACT-SA Zimbabwe country director. “Zimbabwe is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). In that regard, it is of paramount importance that the government takes seriously the corruption reports coming out from Kwekwe regarding the road projects.”

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee chairperson Brian Dube also expressed concern over the Kwekwe roads scandal.

“We are going to visit Kwekwe to assess whether there was value for money on the roads projects,” he said. “We already had a plan to visit areas where public funds were used to assess if there was value for money. It is also a matter of concern to note that while Kwekwe got ZW$68 million, nearby Gweru city got ZW$19 million when it is a bigger city with a wide margin of roads.”

According to Zinara’s schedule of disbursements, indeed, Kwekwe received the highest amount for roads rehabilitation.

While Kwekwe was allocated ZW$68 million, Gweru received ZW$19 million, Gokwe ($30 million), Redcliff (ZW$5 million), Zvishavane (ZW$5 million), Chirumanzu (ZW$6 million), Gokwe North (ZW$13 million), Gokwe South (ZW$28 million), Mberengwa (ZW$4 million), Runde (ZW$4 million), Tongogara RDC (ZW$4 million), Vungu (ZW$9 million) and Zibagwe (ZW$4 million).

Dube, who represents Gweru as its MP, expressed shock at how Kwekwe council was able to select Birthday and Zada companies when they did not have a track record in road construction work.

Responding to questions on the criteria used by Zinara when allocating road funds for cities, Tendai Mugabe, the Zinara spokesperson, said the amounts that must be allocated are determined by the Transport ministry.

“I cannot answer on their behalf,” he said.

 In an earlier interview, he said Zinara does not give contracts to companies for repair of roads but only provides funds.

“We only do monitoring and evaluation,” he said in addition.

However, he did not respond to questions as to whether Zinara had conducted any monitoring and evaluation in Kwekwe.

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