Local Government minister July Moyo and Harare Metropolitan Provincial Affairs minister Oliver Chidawu have been implicated in a massive tender scandal at Harare City Council (HCC) after they allegedly directed the local authority to award a multi-million dollar water treatment contract to two separate companies without following laid down procedure, it has emerged.
The contract is for the supply of water treatment technology solutions to Harare, which is struggling to supply the city of three million residents with safe drinking water.
Currently, council is using nine chemicals to treat water which is heavily polluted with domestic and industrial effluent at a monthly cost of US$3 million.
The local authority has had to frequently shut down its main treatment plant, Morton Jaffray Water Works, due to a shortage of foreign currency to import the required chemicals.
Official documents, corroborated by information obtained from both council and government sources, indicate that the two ministers are separately exerting intense pressure on City of Harare management to disregard an ongoing tender process and have the contract awarded to their preferred companies.
The issue has since become the subject of a corruption investigation by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) after one of the companies reported the case to the anti-graft body on Tuesday.
Moyo is pushing for Boltgas, a Zimbabwean-owned company founded in South Africa in 2005, to be awarded the contract.This is despite the fact that the company was not among 10 firms which responded to a tender invitation for the project in June this year. Chidawu is rooting for South African firm Nanotech Water Africa Private Limited (Nanotech).
However, Nanotech -- like all the other bidders -- initially failed to make the grade, but is now poised to clinch the tender following Chidawu's intervention.
Documents indicate that after the bidding closed on June 20, Harare City Council's evaluation committee deliberated on all submissions and found out that none of them were suitable.
This was revealed in a letter by town clerk Hosiah Chisango to Procurement Regulation Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz) chief executive officer Nyasha Chizu.
Chisango, in the letter, particularly stated that Nanotech's bid had been thrown out because it was not competitive.
For instance, Nanotech's proposed technology reduced the cost of water treatment by just US$780 000. This implies that the monthly cost of treating Harare water would be pegged at US$2,2 million, which the evaluation committee still found to be too high.
Nanotech also fell short in terms of references as it had only one project it undertook in Botswana, raising competence concerns. "The evaluation committee recommended that Praz approves the cancellation of the expression of interest for lack of competition and for technical irregularities," reads Chisango's letter to Chizu, dated August 5.
Chisango, in his letter, also raised the red flag over the possibility that Nanotech was accorded preferential treatment. Nanotech had been engaged by the city's water department to conduct a pre-test three months ahead of the invitation to tender.
"The committee was convinced the specifications were not neutral and the playing field was not level as other players went into the race with an advantage after having been afforded the opportunity to pre-test their solutions before being made to compete with others who did not get the same opportunity. Their specifications, thus, were tailored towards the solutions provided by those that presided over the solutions," he wrote.
There is however no record of Praz's response to Chisango's correspondence. Upon learning of the development, Chidawu summoned Harare mayor Herbert Gomba, Chisango and City of Harare supply chain manager Never Murerwa and other senior managers from the local authority to a meeting at his offices at Charter House in Harare's central business district where he piled pressure on them to bypass the legally permitted procurement procedures and award the tender to Nanotech, claiming the issue was coming from "higher office".
However, Chisango failed to turn up for the meeting. Gomba attended, but abstained from the ensuing deliberations, leaving everything to city officials, arguing that since he was only a ceremonial mayor, he did not want to interfere in the day-to-day activities of Town House.
City officials reportedly asked Chidawu to put his demands in writing, but the minister strongly objected to this and said if they were not keen on following his instructions, he would not hesitate to directly engage Chizu and ask for a waiver of the formal tendering process in terms of Section 54 of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act, which provides for that waiver in case of emergency. At that time, Harare City Council had approached the government, seeking a declaratory order classifying its water situation as a state of emergency.
Curiously, 30 days later, on September 5, Chisango wrote again to Chizu, this time requesting permission to withdraw his earlier correspondence.
"The Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe received a report from City of Harare on the 14th of August on the cancellation of the request for expression of interest. This letter therefore serves to withdraw that report so that pertinent additional information is included and will be resubmitted thereafter," Chisango wrote.
He followed that up with another letter six days later, in which he was now asking Praz to consider proposals from four of the 10 bidders despite having clearly stated that they had failed to satisfy tender adjudicators. He claimed the new position arose because the evaluation committee had subsequently reconvened and resolved to shortlist four bidders, namely Nanotech, Water Dimensions International, Aqua Global and Microlab Scientific.
Documents also show the emergence at this stage of a special procurement oversight committee (SPOC) set up by Praz to take the place of Harare City Council's conventional tender evaluation committee. In the particular correspondence, Chisango dramatically somersaulted and claimed the four companies had "offered a water treatment solution and had adequate manpower to carry the required work."
This time, Chizu, in a letter dated September 24, 2019, approved the new position. "The authority is hereby directing the accounting officer to re-evaluate the tender and make recommendations in line with the observations and requirements of the standard bidding document and submit the revised evaluation report and bids for review by the SPOC," Chizu wrote.
Oddly, it also appears from the documents that there is lack of consensus among city officials, with acting Harare water director Mabhena Moyo writing to Chidawu, instead of Chisango, in which he apparently canvassed for Nanotech.
"A report was written to Praz seeking approval for the city to go ahead with the project with the four companies. A report to Praz recommending that it approves four companies to carry out a pilot project at Morton Jaffray after re-evaluation of the companies is to be prepared. However, it would be prudent and faster to commence with the pilot project with Nanotech who are ready to start," reads Moyo's letter, dated October 7, 2019.
Chisango, on November 13, then wrote to some of the companies involved, informing them that their bids had been unsuccessful, without specifying who had won the tender.
Microlab objected to the move, alleging the process was biased and claimed the tender had been awarded to Nanotech."Your handling of this tender process was biased towards Nanotech from the onset as Nanotech went into the competition with an unfair advantage, rendering the specifications to be not neutral.
The specifications were tailored to suit Nanotech and this smacks of corruption at its worst. We are also aware that the initial evaluation committee strongly advised against awarding the tender to Nanotech only for the report to be withdrawn from Praz after submission."
"It is not only unfair but flagrant corruption to proceed with this process in the current form. Nanotech has connections with those in high offices and this is now standing as their only qualification," Microlab wrote through its managing director Walter Jera on November 19.
This time, it was Murerwa who responded to Microlab, writing: "Please take note that the matter was considered by the SPOC. This letter also serves to advise you that the bid from Nanotech Water Solutions P/L was accepted to proceed to the next level. Be guided accordingly."Jera on Tuesday filed a corruption report to Zacc. The case was filed under RRB number 369602/05/08/14.
Chidawu confirmed he called city officials to a meeting, but claimed he did so on request by the provincial Joint Operations Command (Joc) which he chairs.
"The meeting was called by the provincial Joint Operations Command, worried by the deteriorating water situation in the country which had become a security threat," he said in an interview.
On allegations he pressured council officials to accept the Nanotech bid, Chidawu, himself a former Harare mayor, said: "I only recommended Nanotech on the basis that its proposal seemed to offer the right solutions and, in so doing, I was communicating a security resolution of the provincial Joc. So I did not pressure them," he said.
Gomba also confirmed he went to the minister's office in September along with city officials, but denied playing any role."Councillors are not involved in tenders, we are legislated out of it. Tenders are done by the supply chain manager under the town clerk and then sent to Praz for approval. Council only receives reports to note. Yes, I attended (the meeting) but played no part," he said.
Chisango's mobile phone was not being answered when the Zimbabwe Independent sought his comment yesterday while WhatsApp messages sent to him were not responded to despite evidence that he read them. Council sources also said that on Tuesday this week July Moyo called a meeting at his offices over the issue and indicated that he wanted Boltgas to be part of the deal despite the fact that it had not participated in the tendering process. Moyo could not be reached for comment as he was unreachable on mobile phone.