Saturday, 5 October 2019

HRE COUNCIL REELS FROM ROADWORKS SCANDAL


Harare City Council (HCC) is reeling from yet another controversy after an internal audit unearthed a major scandal through which some road contractors engaged to rehabilitate 43 selected roads in the capital were paid despite “the fact that absolutely no works had been done”.

It is believed that council’s department of works even had the audacity to present fraudulent progress reports in order to renew contracts for some of the companies.

Documents obtained by The Sunday Mail indicate that the scam was exposed when the city’s procurement unit insisted on an inspection of the roads that were purportedly under construction. 

In one of the most glaring cases, City of Harare’s department of works allegedly misrepresented that Fossil Construction — one of the biggest contractors — had rehabilitated 1,2 kilometres      (15 percent) of Kelvin South Road in Graniteside when works had not even begun.

After discovering the anomaly, the procurement division subsequently wrote a letter to town clerk Engineer Hosiah Chisango on July 5 this year to alert him about the discrepancy.

“The constitution of the 15 percent completion could not be explained, with the responsible engineer Mkombeza stating that he exaggerated the percentage as he claimed that there was work done, which he failed to identify, and (we) asked that the road be removed from the list of extension or he writes a report on that,” reads part of the letter.

“In light of the fact that absolutely no works had been done on the road, which had been given 15 percent completion, coupled with the fact that the engineer stated that he probably exaggerated the percentage, it would then leave a lot of questions on all stages of completion on all other roads on the report . . . with the probability of exaggeration clearly manifested.” 

The scope of works on Kelvin South Road included reclaiming 250mm of existing road, adding 150mm gravel (stabilise), prime and 25mm asphalt concrete surfacing.

Further, the contractor was expected to upgrade storm water drainage and put road markings, signs and cat eyes.

In a letter dated July 8 2019, HCC’s audit manager Mr Archibald Nyamurova was particularly scathing on the department of works.

“Kelvin South Road was not rehabilitated to 15 percent stage of completion as was indicated by the department of works when it submitted information to the supply chain manager for purposes of renewing contracts,” it reads.

“There were no materials on site to show that Fossil Construction ever attempted to rehabilitate Kelvin South Road.” 

Mr Nyamurova then recommended that Fossil Construction contract be cancelled while an audit of all the 43 roads under rehabilitation be done before any of the contractors are given new jobs.

“An external engineer should be contracted by council to assess the stage of completion of uncompleted roads, taking into account materials used and funds already paid to contractors,” he said.

Overall, Fossil Construction was paid $1,7 million of the $7,4 million council paid to contractors for various road works.

Head of HCC’s department of works Engineer Isaiah Zvenyika Chawatama confirmed that his department had cooked figures as it sought to renew contracts.

“Such a situation arose that progress update figures did not tally with physical works. It was an error by one of our engineers; he just plugged in figures, you know. He didn’t mean any mischief,” he told The Sunday Mail.

“We have extended the contracts to June 2020 to allow the contractors to finish works. We are now going on the ground,” he said.

The local authority’s new scandal comes barely a month after Government released more than $214 million to extricate the capital from a serious water crisis.

The facilities were released to help pay off debts for water treatment chemicals and rehabilitate the city’s water works.

Government has since ordered a forensic audit to establish the root cause of the paralysis in service delivery, particularly the inability to supply residents with potable water, which is putting lives at risk.

Minister of State for Harare Provincial Affairs Oliver Chidawu told The Sunday Mail there is a “management crisis” at the local authority.

“Government has allocated funds to the city to help with the water crisis and this means some projects will be stalled or temporarily shelved,” said Minister Chidawu.

“So we are now looking at ways of how to come up with long-term solutions to the problem, and we have asked the Harare City Council to do an audit on their revenue streams. 

“We feel there is a management crisis at the City of Harare and that is why we need to have an audit to see how revenue is being used, how it can be used going forward and how it can help with service delivery.”

Government has also made a commitment to provide technical support once the audit is completed.

HCC Mayor Councillor Hebert Gomba said the planned forensic audit will help city fathers to chart their service delivery mandate.

“We will soon be flighting a tender for the external auditing firm.

“The findings will help us on our service delivery mandate, and we will also be doing a skills audit to help us to do away with practices and individuals that stand in the way of progress, and ensure that we put in place robust systems.” 

City of Harare’s revenue collections are currently plummeting as a result of the billing crisis.

The rollout of the new billing system, Sage Evolution, has been affected by system glitches which are seriously inconveniencing ratepayers.

Council decided to source a new software after it severed ties with South African company Quill Associates in March after the latter increased licence fees for its BIQ system.

Since then, ratepayers have been unable to both enquire account balances and receive bill statements.

The Sunday Mail witnessed long queues at some council offices in the capital as service was slow.

Harare Residents Trust (HRT) director Mr Precious Shumba said residents were worried about the absence of a credible billing system.

“We have realised that the city does not have a consolidated billing system. They are unable to access previous data from accounts. Late August, residents received bills that were exaggerated.

“This destroys any chances of financial recovery and eventually leads to the city failing to deliver. We continue the process of engaging them,” he said.

However, Mayor Gomba said the hiccups were part of teething problems that were not uncommon for new systems.

“We have a new system which was approved by Praz (Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe); it is called a CCG system and it complies with the Public Finance Management Act and has new ways of checking account balances that the previous system could not. We procured it from a local company, which is working with internationally recognised companies. The same system is also being used in Chitungwiza,” said Cllr Gomba.

“We are in transition; glitches happen. We have given the supplier up to the end of this month, when they have finished fully installing it, to see if it works well,” he said.

The Harare mayor said data was preserved during the transition from the BIQ system. Sunday Mail

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