. . . MPs fume over irregular fire tenders, devolution funds
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Belarus ally is set to pocket over US$62 million if the murky deal that will see over 63 rural district councils, 32 urban local authorities and metropolitan provinces purchasing fire engines at highly inflated prices following an irregular directive by the Local Government ministry.
The ministry, in a 14 June 2022 memorandum to all local authorities in the country, said each rural local authority should purchase a single fire tender. Zimbabwe has 63 rural district councils (RDCs). With the 63 rural authorities each receiving one fire engine, the dealers are set to receive US$29 250 648, while an additional US$29 714 944 is set to be paid for by 32 urban local authorities which are expected to receive two fire engines each from a reseller company owned Mnangagwa’s friend Alyaksandr Zingman, a Belarusian wheeler-dealer.
Harare and Bulawayo metropolitan provinces are set to receive three fire engines each for at least US$2 785 776. This translates to a total of US$61 751 368 that will be taken from the devolution funds amid uproars from local authorities and members of Parliament who view the deal as corrupt while threatening to use all legal routes to block it.
RDCs with smaller budgets and income will be the hardest hit by the directive, with the purchase gobbling up a quarter of their entire budgets. Goromonzi RDC with its ZW$636 254 723.91 (US$1.4 million) annual budget for the year 2022 would have to spend 32% of its coffers on the fire engine purchase.
Gutu RDC has a total budget of ZW$844 million budget (US$1.8 million using the US$1:ZW$450 base line) but 24% of the budget will have to go to the payment for the fire engine. Chikomba RDC will fork out at least 18% of its ZW$1.1 billion (US$2.4 million) budget for 2022 for the purchase of the fire engine.
For Harare and Bulawayo, the two metropolitan provinces will have to fork out a 1% and 2% of their budgets respectively, given the quantum of income at their disposal.
According to the memorandum to all local authorities addressed to town clerks in the case of cities, town secretaries in the case of urban local authorities and chief executive officers failing to pay, the funds to procure the equipment will be deducted from the 2022 devolution allocations and will be done over a period of 12 months starting March 2022.
Curiously, the government said it has already made some payments and the local authorities should now just await delivery of the fire engines.
“In a bid to alleviate capital equipment shortages in Local Authorities, the government of Zimbabwe will procure fire tenders from Belarus on a government to government agreement,” the memo signed by the Local Government permanent secretary Zvinechimwe Churu reads in part.
“Each rural local authority will get one fire tender, urban local authorities will get two and Metropolitan local authority will get three fire tenders. The cost of each fire tender is US$464 296.
“lt is therefore advisable for local authorities to reprioritise the devolution funds to accommodate the cost of the fire tenders. Please note that the date of delivery will be advised in due course.”
He said some of the payments have so far been made. Information secretary Nick Mangwana on Friday took to Twitter to defend the controversial deal which flouts public procurement law.
“Govt to Govt contracts are not subject to Tender Procedures,” he twitted.
“The price for Zimbabwe includes also at least 5% for spare parts; includes five persons from manufacturer who will stay in Zimbabwe for training of each province for a total period of 34 months.”
The murky deal has drawn the ire of lawmakers who on Wednesday demanded a ministerial statement while accusing Moyo of corruption and violating tender procedures in the murky deal. Available information indicates that each fire tender is overpriced by US$270 000.
Marondera Central MP Caston Matewu said the deal smacked of corruption and violation of the constitution.
“I want to reference section 274 (1) of our constitution which states that these (local authorities) manage their own affairs. I want to ask the minister why there is interference from central government shoving down the throats of local authorities, for example yesterday to purchase fire tenders on their behalf. What kind of law is the minister using to do this illegality?” he asked.
Deputy Local Government and Public Works minister Marian Chombo defended the move, saying:
“We have three tiers of government, which is the central, provincial and the local authority, and they work in unison. I do not see anywhere where the ministry of Local Government and Public Works has interfered in the affairs of local authorities. We do not interfere.”
But Matewu would have none of it and argued that local authorities have to abide by the Procurement Act which in the case of the fire engines deal was flouted.
“Why is the Procurement Act not being followed in ordering all local authorities to take their devolution funds and pay Belarus without any procurement? Why was this allowed to happen?”
“The Procurement Act is very clear on how one buys any tender. Why is the minister flouting the Procurement Act in ordering every single authority to buy fire tenders from Belarus which they did not even ask for? They are taking this money from devolution funds that must be spent in devolved provinces which make their own decisions and own affairs?”
MPs constantly interjected Chombo, asking her whether a tender was floated for the purchase of the fire engines. “If there is any law that you feel that we have not followed the laid down procedures, you are free to approach my office,” Chombo said.
Norton independent member of the National Assembly Temba Mliswa accused Chombo of insulting Parliament.
“We are the ones who make laws, we know Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe and there is no way you can say that they were bought. The question here is that you violated PRAZ and if you say that there is a tender, can you furnish us with the tender number?” Mliswa said.
“There was no tender number in the report. It was a corrupt directive and it is difficult to ask a minister who is also implicated in the corruption — that is where the problem is. Where is the tender number? When was it tendered? Where are the adverts? This is PRAZ and we are the ones who put the law. An advertisement is made, and PRAZ regulations are followed. Cabinet is not above PRAZ, no one is above PRAZ. Can she tell us when they tendered the advert?”
Harare East MP Tendai Biti said: “Can the minister in his statement clarify and explain to the House the legal provisions that he is acting on. Can he also explain why he is now allocating devolution funds when we do not have a devolution law actualising the provisions of chapter 14 of the constitution and section 301 of the constitution? So, if the minister’s statement can speak to the law, why is there by-passing of the Procurement Act? Why is there by-passing of the autonomy of local authorities and why are devolution funds being used in the absence of a devolution law inconsistent with chapter 14 and section 301 of the constitution?”
The fire engines are marketed by Zingman’s AFTRADE DMCC and are manufactured by Belarusian company LLC Pozhsnab. Former Local Government deputy minister Sessel Zvidzai said the deal was a looting ploy by the regime and nothing is in it for the citizens.
“It’s not fire engines that are being bought. It’s just corruption on display because in terms of devolution all councils are free to make their own priorities and I am certain that is not their priority,” he said.