By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
22 July 2014
The controversy surrounding the $144 million Chinese loan meant for the rehabilitation of Harare’s water system continues, with a fresh report indicating that clueless staff are tasked with executing the project.
The Chinese are implementing the project with the assistance of a Harare Water project team led by controversial Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi.
But according to the findings of a Harare City Council special committee, Mahachi’s team members lack the necessary skills, expertise and motivation for the successful implementation of the project.
Also of concern to the investigating committee was that project director Christopher Zvobgo was not fully informed on key issues.
“From interviews conducted it is evident that time, price and quality issues stand in the way of successful implementation of the project. There is no demonstrable ownership and accountability for the project by the project team.
“This is attributed to the lack of project management skills and experience by some of the project team members. There is inadequate legal, commercial, contract management, logistics, procurement, or project finance skills,” part of the report, quoted in the Herald newspaper, says.
The Harare Residents Trust, which criticised the way in which council contracts and projects are handled, says it was typical poor-decision making to appoint an incompetent team to implement a project of such importance.
“There is nothing of significance that has been seen in terms of project works. There are pumps and equipment at the Morton Jaffray Water plant. The project is at least 25 days behind schedule showing lack of progress,” the residents group said on its Facebook page.
Speaking to SW Radio Africa on Tuesday, HRT director Precious Shumba said residents were sceptical about the Harare City Council’s intentions in despatching an audit team without first making available the terms of the loan.
“We are still studying the report but we still haven’t seen a copy of the loan agreement between the City of Harare and the Chinese that we have been asking for. Without this, our analysis will always be insufficient.
“Our immediate response is that this report is a professional cover-up given that the audit team also did not see the loan agreement, and did not have access to documents concerning the project.
“We view the probe and report as efforts meant to pacify the Chinese and residents who are concerned about council’s oversight role,” Shumba said.
He said the report does not address the questionable role that Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo and Mahachi continue to play in the corruption and illicit deals at Town House.
He added: “Mahachi has devised a clever way of misusing public resources by bringing in inexperienced individuals to the water project team. These individuals will not ask questions but will simply follow instructions and do what their bosses ask them to do.”
The same council probe team also revealed that it was finding it difficult to trace the $144 million loan after the money was deposited into an offshore account. The Chinese Machinery and Equipment Corporation, which is leading the water infrastructure upgrade, is said to be handling all project payments.
The arrangement has made it difficult for the council committee to trace the funds thereby frustrating its graft probe which was set up following allegations of corruption and misuse of the part of the loan. At least $8 million has gone towards buying top-end vehicles for the Water Works project team and some councillors.
For many Harare residents and senior officials at Townhouse Town Clerk Mahachi represents everything that is wrong with Zimbabwe at the moment.
Among the recent scandals he has been fingered in is a secret payroll from which senior council managers have been paying themselves mega-salaries while city residents went without basic amenities, including water.
Efforts to suspend Mahachi over incompetence or corruption have been blocked several times by Minister Chombo, with whom he has a close relationship.