By Tererai Karimakwenda
SW Radio Africa
19 May 2014
A meeting of the Harare city Council last Thursday revealed confusion over how much money from a Chinese loan, which was supposed to pay for repairs to the capital’s water and sewage system, was diverted to buying cars for councillors.
Council officials offered conflicting information regarding a loan of over $144 million, which was granted by the China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation in 2010, for the purpose of refurbishing Harare’s deteriorating water and sewage treatment plants.
It was estimated that about $8 million had been spent on cars so far, but the Council agreed to set up a committee consisting of two councillors and three experts to investigate the details of the Chinese deal, in order to establish how much had already been spent on the project and whether overpricing was a factor.
The mayor told councillors that part of the loan had been used to buy 25 luxury vehicles, including Land Rovers. But acting town clerk Christopher Zvobgo offered a figure of 13 vehicles, after first stating that only 8 were provided for in the project itself.
Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni confirmed to SW Radio Africa that it had become clear some vehicles were purchased with part of the loan, and Council is looking at whether this was “compliant” with the terms of the Chinese contract. He said there was also concern over the possibility of “duplication” of budget items.
“What may be of more importance to us is prioritization. With the Council cash constrained in a number of areas, particularly with water itself, the need for motor vehicles, even if provided for by the contract itself, I think has to be moderated by a sense of priority,” Mayor Manyenyeni explained, adding that this was a natural expectation of the residents of Harare.
The Chinese deal was signed for by the then mayor Muchadeyi Masunda and town clerk Tendai Mahachi, who remains in this position despite having been suspended after failing to comply with orders to reveal the salaries of senior council executives. He was controversially saved by Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo. It is clear Mahachi will be at the centre of the pending investigation.
The mayor confirmed reports that the town clerk had not attended the Thursday meeting because he was ill and had been hospitalized. Some councillors had alleged that Mahachi failed to attend because he knew that he would be questioned about the vehicle purchases.
Mayor Manyenyeni said the project to repair the water treatment plant is already underway. He added that he had visited project sites to inspect the work for himself on Saturday and concluded that an independent project engineer and manager was needed.
Meanwhile, Harare residents continue to bear the brunt of the previous Councils’ failure to rectify the water and sewerage crisis that sees them living with daily water cuts, with some areas having no water at all for extended periods.
The use of water from unsafe boreholes and other sources has seen an outbreak of water borne diseases that remain a constant threat to Harare residents.