HARARE – Mabvuku-Tafara legislator James Maridadi has reignited debate about the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara)’s 80 motorised graders after petitioning Transport minister Joram Gumbo to explain the suitability and technical specifications of the six-year old equipment.
While the issue has remained a source of constant political bickering and conjecture since 2014, the roads manager plunged into controversy after asking Univern Enterprises (Private) Limited (Univern) to supply 40 more machines – out of the initial tender – under a directive from ex-president Robert Mugabe’s government.
“Recently, you undertook a tour of some RDCs… (where) you spoke about road graders, which you said were not suitable for gravel road rehabilitation but were manufactured to clear snow. This revelation has raised the concern of some citizens resident in the constituency mentioned above,” Maridadi said, adding the request was being done in line with section 62 of the Constitution and which guaranteed Zimbabwean citizens access to information in the public interest, and accountability and feedback was needed by mid-February.
“I, therefore, request the Ministry of Transport… to kindly furnish me with information pertaining to… purchase of the snow graders. Nature of agreement that was entered into between government and the company that procured the graders,” he said.
“If (the) agreement… arose out of a government tender, then I request… documents inviting bids, number of companies which responded, and response documents of the top three bidders. Full set of documents of the company, which was awarded the tender and the amount… paid to the winning company, and mode of payment,” the former broadcaster said.
Despite winning an open $8 million tender for 40 graders in 2012 and being given a second mandate for similar equipment – under the same terms, price and within a calendar year of the PBR 1854/10/12 award – Univern has also taken some flak for allegedly supplying inappropriate machines after its Chinese contractor Sany Corporation chose to include a front-dozing plate on the earthmovers, which has elicited misconceptions that they were actually “snow graders”.
Even, though, the Harare-based technology firm’s private-public sector partnership with Zinara has delivered 103 000 kilometres of upgraded rural roads since 2013 and it provided another batch of bulldozers under a June 2013 purchase order from the parastatal, Gumbo’s recent and contradictory remarks about the equipment have not helped matters.
“I am pleased that we have exceeded ZimAsset targets in grading, which was set at 4 000km in five years. With effect from January 1, 2018, ownership and maintenance of the graders has been transferred to the various authorities. It is our expectation that will ensure optimum utilisation… so that the road network… is kept in trafficable state,” he said after claiming the roads manager had acquired substandard machines and yet the monsters have done nearly 300 000 hours of work since mid-2013, and meaning an average six hours a day.
While Zinara and Univern have remained under fire for “pricing and technical” issues over the heavy-duty equipment, it has also emerged that the latter was chosen – on the initial 2012 deal – after beating 16 other bidders and who had quoted prices in excess of $400 000 a unit for the dozers needed under the road authorities recapitalisation programme.
And besides being involved in the process of drawing up tender specifications for the machines, several RDCs have come up with complaints that the equipment was lying idle because of its unsuitability for local condition and just too expensive to run.
Despite the tender-procedure concerns and specifically section 30 of the procurement act, which parliament has heard and addressed since four years ago, it is common cause that Nancy Masiyiwa-Chamisa’s organisation sought condonation for the purchase of extra equipment and which was duly cleared or ratified.
When the matter first played out in the august house in 2014-2015, acting Zinara CE Moses Juma not only stressed to the national assembly’s public accounts committe that the graders were not overpriced, but they were also good enough for the maintaince of Zimbabwean roads.
“It is not a snow plough, it is a dozer plate which is able to push material, and so this particular grader is able to do dozing of material and also clear and push bushes, and we feel it is adding value to our equipment,” the trained engineer said then.
On the other hand, legislator and committee chair on transport concurred: “From an engineer’s point of view, I think we got two graders for the price of one because… (they) have a blade in front that can be utilised as a dozer. We have a grader that has two functions and so the issue of being overcharged for the graders is misplaced. All I can advocate for is the right utilisation of those graders.”
Meanwhile, the full set of high-tech equipment, which was given to the country’s 90 road authorities, also comprised dumpers, a front-end loader, rollers and a tipper.
Under the arrangement with Univern, a 24-hour call centre to provide full back-up support , service and tracking was established until the latest arrangement, and where the RDCs are in full control of their after service requirements or needs.