Columbus Mabika Herald Reporter
Legislators have taken to task one of the three companies that won a contract to provide prepaid water meters to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa), for failing to disclose a pending litigation case in which it was embroiled in a tender row with power utility, Zesa Holdings.
Parliament’s Portfolio committee on Agriculture, Lands and Rural Development, grilled Helcraw Electrical managing director, Mr Farai Jere, on why he did not disclose a pending criminal case where he is being charged for allegedly defrauding Zesa’s electricity distribution arm, ZETDC, of US$3 566 878 in a deal to supply smart meters and accessories, which dates back to 2016.
The committee, chaired by Gokwe Nembudziya legislator, Cde Justice Mayor Wadyajena, invited Mr Jere and two other companies that won the tenders to explain the circumstances leading to the award.
Finmark Energy and Satewave Technologies are the other companies that won tenders. Satewave Technologies did not attend the committee hearing.
Zinwa, through the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ), awarded tenders to three companies out of six, to supply prepaid water meters as the water utility moves away from post-paid water meters that have left it struggling to recover over $2,4 billion from consumers.
Of concern was how Helcraw Electrical, owned by Mr Jere, was awarded the tender when it is still being jointly charged on allegations of defrauding ZETDC of US$3 566 878. During the tension-filled meeting, Cde Wadyajena asked Mr Jere whether he had disclosed his issues with ZETDC, during the time he submitted bids for prepaid water to Zinwa.
“Mr Jere, did you disclose to Zinwa that your company is under litigation from ZESA over prepaid electricity meters?” he questioned.
In his evidence, Mr Jere said there was no legal requirement for him to disclose to Zinwa of a pending criminal case against him before the courts.
“In the tendering laws of this country, there is no law which provides that we cannot be allowed to go for a tender because we have a pending case at the courts. It was not necessary since they didn’t ask. We did not disclose that,” answered Mr Jere.
There was a heated exchange at one point between Cde Wadyajena and Mr Jere on the issue as the former wanted a precise response. Mr Jere told the legislators that his company was ready to deliver 20 000 meters to Zinwa as per the tender agreement.
He said despite having a liquidation case involving Zesa before the courts, his company remains eligible for tenders in the country. Finmark Energy, which was represented by Mrs Anna Hengechefu, said Zinwa officials called them for a debrief that is when they were told about their successful bid.
“We have documentation to that effect; it was communicated verbally to us,” she said.
Helcraw Electrical and Finmark Energy agreed that there was no other documentation from Zinwa awarding them tenders as it was communicated verbally.
The legislators said they were keen to get a deeper understanding of the award of the tender and they will invite all concerned members to appear before the committee in future. Earlier on, Zinwa chief executive officer, Engineer Taurai Maurikira had appeared before the same committee saying the awards of the bids to the three firms were above board as all procedural requirements were followed.
The introduction of prepaid water meters is a first in Zimbabwe and is in sync with emerging trends in water resources management. The initial phase will see 35 000 clients in the 534 water supply stations across the 20 service centres having prepaid meters installed for them while the rest of the clients will get their meters in the subsequent phases. The rollout of the meters follows successful piloting in Mvurwi and Chivhu since 2019.
At least 300 clients, equally distributed between the two towns, received the prepaid meters in the pilot phase. It is envisaged that the concept of pre-paid meter will bring with it, great convenience to clients who will now have greater, clearer and firm control over their water consumption patterns.