US$87m tender scam unearthed
GRINDALE Engineering Services, a company that won a lucrative US$87 million tender for the construction of Vungu Dam in the Silobela area of the Midlands province, falsified information and circumvented set procurement and tendering processes, investigations have revealed.
The dam, with a length of 2.6 kilometres and a height of 30 metres, is situated in Silobela’s Vungu locality. Upon completion, it is expected to bring 118 million cubic metres of water expected to irrigate 1 200 hectares for the Redcliff, Silobela and Vungu communities.
Engineers say the project was expected to take 36 months to complete and the contract was signed on 28 December last year between the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) and the contractor.
Grindale Engineering gave false information, with the company claiming it had done “similar projects” as per the requirements of the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz) and Zinwa for the project.
The company further claimed it had previously worked with the Zimbabwe Power Company, Gweru City Council, Zimplats and the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company.
Zinwa communications and marketing manager Marjorie Munyonga, responding to questions from The NewsHawks, said Zinwa floated a tender for the construction of Vungu Dam and after an evaluation process Grindale Engineering was recommended to Praz for the role of contractor.
“The Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe did not object to the selection of Grindale Engineering as the contractor, paving the way for the award of the contract to Grindale in terms of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act,” said Munyonga.
When asked whether Zinwa was aware that Grindale Engineering clinched the tender on false pretences, Munyonga said the water authority had no such information.
“Zinwa has not been furnished with any report suggesting or implying that Grindale won the tender on the basis of false pretence and neither has any of the companies that participated in the tender process filed any challenge to the awarding of the contract to Grindale Engineering.
“Experience in dam construction was not the only technical requirement that prospective bidders had to have and, on that requirement, Grindale Engineering did not score any points. The other requirements were that the bidders have experience in earthworks, irrigation development and pipeline construction, which Grindale had.
“Suffice to say that the tender was not evaluated and awarded on those requirements alone, but also on other parameters which included pricing,” said Munyonga.
Praz chief executive officer Clever Ruswa could not immediately respond to inquiries on the exact reservations the procurement authority had with Grindale Engineering.
Investigations by The NewsHawks with support from Information for Development Trust (IDT), a non-profit organisation helping journalists to expose corruption and bad governance, revealed that the Harare-based company presented falsified information and had initially failed to win the tender after Praz raised red flags.
Top firms speak
Investigations, which included speaking to companies that Grindale Engineering claimed to have done jobs for, showed that contrary to the claims, the company had not done any “similar projects” with them.
Companies that Grindale claimed to have worked with in “projects of a similar nature” include the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC), a subsidiary of the state-owned power utility Zesa Holdings, Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC), Gweru City Council and platinum miner Zimplats.
Members of Parliament from the Lands committee chaired by Gokwe-Nembudziya MP Justice Mayor Wadyajena told The NewsHawks in separate interviews that Grindale Engineering did not qualify initially for the tender, effectively confirming that the firm unprocedurally clinched the contract without meeting the requirements.
The MPs confirmed that a report is now being compiled on the matter and will be tabled in Parliament. In its 19 July response to inquiries from MPs that was gleaned by The NewsHawks, the ZPC said contrary to Grindale Engineering’s claims, the company only rehabilitated a water reservoir and a pond at the Harare Power Station in 2018 and never a dam or anything similar to that.
On 28 July 2022, Gweru City Council town clerk Vakai Chikwekwe dispelled claims by Grindale Engineering that the company had done dam construction work, saying the firm was only involved in “minor maintenance work at our water treatment plant”.
ZCDC also dismissed Grindale Engineering’s claims, with the diamond miner saying it could not vouch for the company’s capacity. Zimplats chief executive officer Alex Mhembere wrote to the Parliamentary Lands committee in July, saying the engineering firm only completed works on its ponds and sewer in a nearby suburb in Mhondoro.
“Grindale Engineering did complete installation of steel and sewer pipelines and sewer ponds in Mhondoro and did not construct a dam,” the Zimplats letter gleaned as part of the investigation reads.
This has raised further questions as to how the company not only won the US$87 million tender but also went on to receive US$2 624 271.51 as part payment that the firm claimed was used to buy project machinery and vehicles.
Vehicle purchase ‘lies’
Investigations also exposed misrepresentations that the company had used over US$3 million, slightly above what the firm had received from the government, to buy machinery for the project as it later turned out the equipment had been hired to hoodwink the MPs who visited the site on 10 July this year on a fact-finding mission.
While the company officials claimed they had bought the equipment using part of the money availed to them, it emerged they engaged Amasonic and Bickford Truck Hire whose drivers confirmed the machinery was only brought in two days before the Lands committee’s July tour. MPs have questioned why the company without adequate material placed a bid for a tender and went on to win.
The company said it bought three tractors, three excavators, two dozers and service vehicles, but in trying to establish the truth, MPs have since demanded paperwork from Grindale Engineering (Pvt) Limited. MPs said some of the equipment they saw on site looked too small for the big project.
MPs demand answers
MPs have also demanded a list of everything bought by Grindale Engineering after the company claimed it used part of the payment to purchase machinery for the project. “We want to have everything that you bought,” Wadyajena said.
“Everything must be accounted for and we want a list of everything you bought with the money from government.”
Committee sources this week said a report on the matter was now being prepared amid indications that the MPs will raise a lot of concerns on the flouting of tender and procurement procedures, in a development that speaks volumes of the manner in which the company won the tender.
This, the MPs said, was only a tip of the iceberg reflective of the murky nature of government and parastatal deals which are manipulated for personal gain.
Wadyajena recently quizzed the company over the role of senior ministry of Lands officials in manipulating the processes and ensuring Grindale Engineering was awarded the US$87 million project that is now behind schedule.
We’re on course, says Grindale
Although Grindale Engineering officials could not immediately comment on inquiries by The NewsHawks, the company is on record as saying it is on course to completing the project while pleading with the government to timeously release funding.
Grindale Engineering was established in 1995 and claimed it has undertaken several works for the government, the private sector and local authorities. The company conceded it was behind schedule by two months, but expressed desire to complete the project.
Vungu constituency MP Omega Sibanda said although the dam was moved from his area to Silobela, it was important for his area as the local community is set to benefit.
Sibanda said despite the negativity and reservations of some, he was pleased with the development.
“It will cover part of Vungu, but the major part of it is Redcliff-Silobela. They have started on it. The process has started, I have seen mobilisation of equipment has started. Remember when you are constructing a dam, it is a process,” Sibanda said.
“From what I have seen, I am satisfied that something good will come out and it will cover a huge area of irrigation. Even though some who are not on the ground are complaining, I am happy,” he added.