Saturday, September 18, 2021
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Of opaque deals and unfinished projects

Acting City of Masvingo Town Clerk Edward Mukaratirwa

 …the story of Masvingo’s stalled US$2
million Mucheke Trunk Sewer project
Upenyu Chaota
The
Mucheke Trunk Sewer project dates back to 2012 when the then Masvingo mayor,
the late Femius Chakabuda, confirmed in one interview that work on the project
was already underway and was expected to be complete by 2013.
The
project is probably the biggest blight on both council management and
councillors who were in office that time because seven years later, the project
remains uncompleted.
The
deep trenches have become a hazard to man and to the environment, and many of
the fibrous pipes still lie unattended in the open veld; some of them being
vandalised.
With
the expansion of the city partly due to the growth of the sprawling peri-urban
settlement of Victoria Ranch, council realised the need to upgrade the sewer
system which last received such attention in the late 1990s.
The
tender was awarded to Mutual Constructions and work on the project started in
2012 but there were numerous twists and turns.
Work
was abruptly stopped in 2013 despite the contractor having received US$2
million upfront to do the project.
The
project was initiated when Chakabuda was mayor, with Adolf Gusha, who retired
at the end of August this year, being town clerk.
Chakabuda
left council in 2013 and was replaced by Hubert Fidze who also left in 2018 and
was replaced by current mayor Collen Maboke.
Fidze
still maintains that the contractor stopped the work as the initial cost of the
project was underestimated by the previous council board.
“Many
things went wrong but chief among them was the underestimation of the project
cost. As you may know, the project was initiated by the council that came
before us in 2013. They were responsible for the costing and deal-making,” said
Fidze.
Gusha
is on record admitting that council had not done the feasibility study prior to
the start of the project, and council had to engage a South African consultant
for the study. This raised eyebrows as to how the tender process was conducted
in the first place.
Latest
investigations, have, however, revealed that council negotiated a bad deal and
agreed to sign a defective agreement which would favour the contractor in case
of a dispute.
“They
negotiated a very bad deal and agreed to pay the contractor all the money at
once. They must have negotiated for the money to be paid in phases depending on
progress on the project. The terms of the agreement were such that council
would be powerless to act should there be a dispute, and that is exactly what
happened.
“Doesn’t
it surprise you that council has made no attempt to recover any of the money
paid to the contractor and hasn’t even attempted to sue in light of the fact
that the contractor failed to deliver on a project he was fully paid to do?”
said a source who is privy to the details.
Mutual
Constructions stopped all work and moved away its equipment after efforts to
‘extort’ a further US$2.5 million using arguments that the project needed more
money due to unforeseeable cost overheads, was rebuffed.
When
Gusha retired, he was replaced by current acting town clerk Edward Mukaratirwa
who has pledged to mobilise ‘internal’ council resources and complete the
project by the end of 2020.
He
has, however, failed to explain how he could achieve that in face of
deteriorating revenue accruals which have seen council collecting, on average,
a measly $1 million dollars per month against a target of $3 million.
In
his recent interview with TellZim News, Mukaratirwa said basing on the
technical advice that council has, the sewer line will be completed in three
years’ time.
“As
council, we resolved to mobilise internal resources for the completion of the
project. We will also use funds allocated by government through devolution to
do the work,” Mukaratirwa said.
“We
also plan to approach Victoria Ranch residents through the land developers to
make them contribute a levy towards the completion of the sewer line since they
are the direct beneficiaries of the project. Whatever happens there (at
Victoria Ranch) affects us so it’s only fair to engage them. We have a council
resolution to that effect,” said Mukaratirwa.
He
said council bought pipes for the project from Turnall in Bulawayo a few years
back, but has not been able to transport them due to the cost, but a recent
disbursement of $624 000 from government will go towards that.
“The
$624 000 we received from government is all going towards the transportation of
the pipes we bought. The tender process has been completed and transportation
will start in November through to December,” Mukaratirwa said.
It
remains to be seen whether or not council will use these funds for the stated
purpose in face of ‘more pressing’ challenges like depressed pumping at the
Bushmead Water Works caused by many factors including crippling power cuts and
frequent machinery breakdowns.
“Work
on the ground will probably start at the end of the rainy season and by then,
we hope all the materials required for the completion of the first phase will
be in place,” Mukaratirwa said.
Assuming
that work on the ground will start early 2020, the project’s completion will be
10 years behind schedule.
In
2015, council advertised in the media its intention to borrow US$1.7 million
for the completion of the project, and after getting the nod to borrow, council
confirmed that work was to commence soon afterwards.
In
a notice published in the Sunday Mail on June 15, Gusha revealed that the trunk
sewer project requires the massive capital injection to be completed.
“Masvingo
City Council has resolved to apply to the Minister of Local Government, Public
Works and National Housing of Borrowing Powers in the sum of One Million seven
hundred thousand dollars (US$1700 000),” reads part of the notice.
The
notice also states that the money is needed for the trunk main sewer
completion, trunk water main and the trunk road.
It
was reported that the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) had agreed to
lend council some US$900 000 to be used for the resumption of work on the
project.
Nssa
reportedly also pledged a further US$1.7 million subject to government
approval, but work on the project has not resumed up to now, with some council
insiders saying the pensions authority had backtracked in light of the
inflationary economic environment which is detrimental to lenders.
Some
residents recently complained that they suspected council had increased bills
behind their backs as part of desperate efforts to raise new funding for the
project.
In
2017, council spent $500 000 on vehicles for deputy directors and what they
termed ‘other uses’, a development which caused serious disagreements between
councillors and management.
Council
minutes dating back to 2017 state that the trunk sewer project is only 68
percent complete due to lack of funds.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Great Article. Thank you for sharing! Really an awesome post for every one.

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