The Herald (Harare)

7 March 2014

Zimbabwe: Dr Chombo, the Ball Is in Your Court

editorial

Early last month, we published a story based on a December 2013 report by consulting engineer Mr Peter Morris in which the expert highlighted that a water deal between the City of Harare and China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation could have been inflated to the tune of US$100 million.

As has become the norm with some public officials in Zimbabwe, city authorities tried to deny that there was something horribly amiss with the deal that was signed in 2010 by Town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi and CMEC.

No one in Zimbabwe's public office has ever done anything wrong. Everything bad about the economy, infrastructure, water, electricity, education, health and sport is as a result of some natural cause or sanctions.

Our public officials are, apparently, hardworking angels who have never put a foot wrong and we should all be eternally grateful that they take their precious time to serve us - for hefty salaries, of course.

Yesterday, we carried another story on how the City of Harare could lose 733,9 hectares of land because of the Airport Road deal with Augur Investments.

From the word go, questions have always been raised about the costing of the project and the awarding of the contract.

Again, as is natural with our super-perfect public officials, the media were just criticising for the sake of criticising.

Never mind that people have a genuine expectation of transparency from these offices, moreso when the deals mean the public lose tens of millions of dollars in spectacularly opaque circumstances.

Regarding the Airport Road mess-up, one of the readers of The Herald Online, Wilson Magaya, made a very interesting observation yesterday.

He said, "7,4 million square metres. Wow this was an ill-structured deal by the city. This comes to a whopping 88 million (US) dollars of council land at a conservative price of US$12 (per square metre)."

By any measure and standard, the deal is simply illogical. Not so for our public authorities.

What we would like to see now is action from Local Government, Public Works and National Housing Minister Dr Ignatius Chombo on the Augur Investments Airport Road contract, the CMEC water infrastructure rehabilitation deal, and many other deals at the City of Harare and other local authorities over past years.

Dr Chombo will be well aware that a significant proportion of the public is not exactly enamoured of how he has handled certain local government issues, especially his reinstatement of Harare Town Clerk Dr Tendai Mahachi after he had been suspended by city mayor Mr Bernard Manyenyeni.

Dr Mahachi had been suspended for reportedly failing to furnish council with a full schedule of what he and other senior managers at the municipality were earning.

Much of the public thought that the suspension would indeed pave way for some sort of investigation into the salaries issue at Town House, and that Dr Chombo almost immediately reinstated him certainly raised eyebrows.

There is a perception in some quarters that the Harare town clerk and Dr Chombo are a little too cosy.

It would be quite welcome to see a robust response from Dr Chombo at least on the Airport Road Augur Investments and CMEC water rehabilitation deals.

We know that Dr Chombo is capable of robust action as seen by his interventions on alleged and proven corruption by councillors.

It would be good to see the same stern response to alleged corruption, abuse of office and sometimes sheer ineptitude on the part of municipal managers.

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