BY GARIKAI MAFIRAKUREVA
A SYNDICATE comprising powerful politicians, bankers and workers looted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the agro-industrial giant Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe (THZ) after an attempt to launch a crucial project collapsed a few years ago, an audit report seen by the Zimbabwe Independent reveals.
The syndicate, which capitalised on loopholes in the development of the aborted Successful Rural Sugarcane Farming Community Project (SusCo), also included banking sector officials, according to information obtained this week.
The audit, by Ernst &Young, covered the period between 2011 and 2015. The project costs were estimated to be US$7 million.
The report was based on information supplied by Triangle Limited, Hippo Valley Estates, SusCo Project staff and management and relevant third parties.
According to the report SusCo employees (some of whom were also sugarcane farmers) violated the Triangle policies by receiving farming inputs, especially fertilisers through the SusCo Project.
Some sugarcane farmers obtained inputs under the SusCo Project using leased farms in violation of laid-down SusCo rules that stated that only sugarcane farm owners were the beneficiaries of this project.
The report went on to state that some SusCo sugarcane farmers (including Triangle employees) used or abused SusCo Triangle equipment (such as tractors and ploughing equipment) at their farms without following the proper and laid-down procedures.
Others who were non-sugarcane farmers received sugarcane inputs from the SusCo Project in violation of the SusCo Project objectives which stated that the project should only benefit sugarcane farmers.
Contract terms for suppliers of goods and services for the project were fraudulently altered by the responsible SusCo and THZ employees.
Part of the report gleaned by the Independent reads:
“We noted that SusCo contracts for seed cane and haulage services were negotiated and signed between the suppliers and representatives of the sugarcane farmers associations without the involvement of SusCo or THZ representatives.
“As at December 31, 2012, contracts between SusCo and Mangwa Quip, Masden and Large Data had not been signed by either party. Although Ushe Chinhuru who was the Finance and Commercial Manager at SusCo and also the General Manager for Canelands Trust informed investigators that this was because the contractors had made arrangements with SusCo to extend their contract durations, he could not provide documented evidence to support the arrangements.
“Amberlight and Conevice provided tillage services to SusCo in the period under review but we could not confirm how they were appointed as they did not have any signed contracts with SusCo. Chinhuru informed us that these two suppliers were awarded contracts without going to tender and that the decision was made with the approval of the THZ Tender Committee.”
However, he could not provide the independent investigators with documentation to that effect.
“In the farming season 2012/2013 only Large Data, Masden and R&G were awarded tenders to provide services to SusCo. However, we also noted that Mangwa Quip, CaneQuip and Amberlight also provided various services although there is no evidence to support that these companies responded to the SusCo tender or that they went through tender adjudication processes.”
It is alleged that MangwaQuip is partly owned by a prominent politician in Chiredzi East.
“In the farming season 2011/2012 only R&G, CaneGrowers Transporters and Peacocks were awarded tenders to provide services to SusCo. However, we also noted that Masden, Cyworld, ZSDA Tillage Unit, Large Data, Conevice and Amberlight provided various services although there is no evidence to support that these companies responded to the SusCo tender or that they went through tender adjudication processes.
“Large Data and CaneQuip were awarded separate contracts by SusCo for the 2012/2013 farming season for tillage equipment hire. We however noted common shareholding and directorships between the two companies. We also confirmed that this was not disclosed during any Tender Committee meeting.
“As at April 24, 2012, the now Chiredzi West MP Farai Musikavanhu who was then the Project Manager at SusCo and also the Agricultural Extension Services Director for Hippo Valley Estates was implicated in the scam. The incumbent legislator is also a sugarcane farmer through farm ownership through Puwevhu Investment.
“We noted that Mr Musikavanhu received more/excess inputs than the standard quantities prescribed by SusCo for his farm size,” read the report.
Musikavanhu and Richard Siziba allegedly failed to recuse themselves and formally disclose their business interests to the THZ Tender Committee – that they were directors and shareholders of CaneGrowers Transporters, a company which was contracted by SusCo to provide tillage services, despite the fact that Musikavanhu was a member of the THZ Tender Committee and Siziba was a Triangle Limited Extensions Officer.
“We confirmed that Mr Musikavanhu owns farm number F8 of Sub-Division F8/4 and benefited from farming assistance under the SusCo project.
“Mr Musikavanhu and Mr Siziba had shareholding interests and were directors of a company called Cane Growers Transporters until April 24, 2012.
“Cane Growers Transporters (Pvt) Ltd provided tillage services to SusCo during the period Mr Musikavanhu and Mr Siziba were still directors for the same supplier. Mr Musikavanhu was a member or the Tender Committee during this period,” the report revealed.
It was also noted during the investigation that 39 seed cane farmers who did not have Seed Cane Nursery Inspection reports supplied seed cane to SusCo farmers, through SusCo. These 39 seed cane suppliers were not among the 92 seed cane farmers approved by SusCo to supply seed cane to SusCo farmers during the period under review.
Further investigations revealed that 17 haulage services suppliers who did not have haulage services agreements with SusCo provided seed cane haulage services to SusCo. Among these suppliers were SusCo employees including one who was the Services Manager at SusCo reporting to the SusCo Planning and Engineering Manager. The other was an accountant at SusCo and also a sugarcane farmer through farm ownership.