Daniel Nemukuyu-Investigations Editor
The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) has opened investigations into tender processes at Avondale Primary School, amid allegations of flawed tender processes where the school engaged two services providers, in questionable service provision that could have prejudiced the school of thousands of dollars.
In one of the cases, Avondale Primary School transferred thousands of dollars monthly into the bank account of a local computer company whose role was to forward the same funds to the school’s internet service provider ZOL Zimbabwe, for an undisclosed fee, while the school also installed a solar system which failed to work.
From October last year to March this year, the Government school had been paying for its monthly internet services through a third party, a development that raised eyebrows considering such a reputable school could easily engage the internet service provider on its own.
Paying directly reduces bank transfer charges and also cuts the costs ordinarily paid to agents in financial transactions.
Instead of paying ZOL, the school engaged a company called Lifemark Computers as an agent for payment of monthly internet subscriptions. Asked to comment on the issue, the head, Dr Nothando Mtomba said Lifemark only served as a “facilitator” in a transition period of four months when the school changed internet service providers.
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. 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,” said Dr Mtomba.
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 yet another project, 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 project was also meant to provide 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 solar system had failed them.
“Dr Mtomba explained that the solar system installed in the school was having challenges. It failed to pump the borehole. So the borehole was removed from the solar connections.
“The system is a 10KVA . . .” reads part of the minutes.
Some SDC members questioned if the school had done due diligence and engaged knowledgeable people before purchasing 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.
In an interview, Dr Mtomba said the system was now used as back up for the administration block and the solar system 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 advised me that the system was ideal in terms of the school needs,” she said.
While all teachers now have new school laptops, desktop computers and smart phones, the top school by Thursday had not started online lessons with Dr Mtomba saying parents are not paying for the teachers’ data.
“Yes, we have Wi-fi at the school, but the teachers should work from home. Who pays for their transport costs when schools are not open?
“Parents are not playing ball. We asked them to pay for online lessons, but only 10 percent paid. How can we start the lessons when they are not cooperating? Maybe your sources are the ones who are not paying,” said Dr Mtomba.
The school’s SDC chairman, who has been in the committee for years, together with the school head clashed with new committee members over their proposed sitting allowance of $5 000 each when the school had financial challenges.
The new members complained that the proposed allowance would bleed the school while the chairman and the school head, on the other side, were supporting it.
Others proposed $2 500 until they finally settled for $3 700. Whistle blowers have since written to ZACC requesting investigations into the two tender incidences.
ZACC has since confirmed receiving the complaint saying investigations were now in progress.
“I can confirm that the commission has received a report involving Avondale Primary School and we are seized with the matter. Investigations are underway,” said ZACC spokesperson Commissioner John Makamure.