Avondale Primary in tender storm

Source: Avondale Primary in tender storm | The Herald

Daniel Nemukuyu
Investigations Editor
Avondale Primary School is being investigated by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education over two sets of questionable transactions — paying a middleman a fee to transfer funds to ZOL for internet services and buying a solar system that failed to work.

From October last year to March this year, the Government school paid for its monthly internet services through a third party, even though the school could easily had paid the internet service provider directly, reducing bank transfer charges and not paying the middleman’s fee.

Instead of paying ZOL direct, which even ordinary householders do, the school engaged a company called Lifemark Computers as an agent for payment of monthly internet subscriptions.

Harare acting provincial education director Mr Cloud Nyambuya said investigations were in progress and the findings will soon be out.

“Investigations into complaints at Avondale Primary School are currently underway and once we are done, we will let you know of the outcome,” he said.

In an earlier investigative story by The Herald that unearthed the questionable developments, Avondale Primary School headmistress Dr Nothando Mtomba said Lifemark only served as a “facilitator” in a transition period of four months when the school changed internet service providers.

But she confirmed that payment was done to ZOL through Lifemark.

“We did pay for internet services through Lifemark, but it was only for four months,” said Dr Mtomba. “Lifemark are our technical consultants who did installations at our computer laboratory. They also installed our electronic boards in classes.

“When our relationship with our previous internet service provider TelOne went sour, we engaged Lifemark to facilitate our new deal with ZOL. We paid ZOL through Lifemark.”

Lifemark also supplied laptops for teachers at the school, with school records showing they have since been paid $850 000.

Dr Mtomba said the school engaged Lifemark for installations after recommendations from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.

In the solar deal, Avondale Primary School paid over $500 000 to a local company for the installation of a solar system meant to pump water from the school’s borehole and the system failed to work.

The solar system was also meant to provide basic power back-up in times of electricity outages.

However, the solar system was purchased and installed without checking its capacity and it failed to serve the purpose.

Minutes of the School Development Committee (SDC) meeting dated June 10 this year show the committee members admitted the 10kVA solar system had failed them.

“Dr Mtomba explained that the solar system installed at the school was having challenges,” reads the minutes. “It failed to pump the borehole. So the borehole was removed from the solar connections.”

Some SDC members questioned if the school had done due diligence and engaged knowledgeable people before buying the solar system. Others proposed an audit of the solar system to see if it was the appropriate one while some pushed for the reversal of the solar deal.

Dr Mtomba said the system was now used as back up for the administration block, and the solar system to power the borehole pump would now be done in phases.

She said the school only acted on advice from some of the previous SDC members.

“I may not be the best person to comment on such technical issues. We did consult but some of the previous SDC members advised me that the system was ideal in terms of the school needs,” she said.

The school’s SDC chairman, who has been in the committee for years, together with the school head recently clashed with new committee members over a proposed sitting allowance of $5 000 each when the school had financial challenges.