Innocent Ruwende Senior Reporter…
Harare City management has used part of the US$144,4 million loan from China for water and sewerage reticulation to buy 25 luxury cars, which include Land Rovers and Range Rovers. Mayor Bernard Manyenyeni revealed this at a full council meeting on Thursday, where acting town clerk Engineer Christopher Zvobgo said he was aware of 13 vehicles — though he first said eight had been bought.
The value of the cars was still to be established.
Yesterday, deputy mayor Thomas Muzuva revealed further lack of clarity on the whole deal when he said: “I understand 25 vehicles were bought. When I asked the town clerk (Dr Tendai Mahachi) he said 21 were bought, but Engineer Zvobgo told full council that 13 vehicles were bought.
“We will need proof in the form of receipts to know the actual number of vehicles bought as well as the price,” he said
On Thursday, Clr Manyenyeni told the full council, “Every day we are waking up to surprises, the deal continues to be too cloudy to be ignored.
“There are reports that council bought vehicles using funds from the water project. We cannot continue to ignore these reports, we have to do something about them.”
In 2010, the city secured a US$144,4 million loan for China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation to refurbish water and sewage treatment plants.
Government guaranteed the loan, which was signed for by Dr Mahachi and the then Mayor Mr Muchadeyi Masunda.
Councillors expressed outrage over the purchase of the vehicles, with former finance committee chairperson Clr Norman Markham saying there was too much opacity in how council spent money and that is why he had resigned from his brief earlier this year.
Deputy mayor Muzuva added: “Your Worship, the finance committee should have been involved because these officials are diverting funds from the Chinese loan facility. This is a loan, it is not a grant and residents will pay for it.
“We want a breakdown of how the money was used. We might wake up to be told that there is no money left.”
Cllr Muzuva said Dr Mahachi should have left officials responsible for water to run the programme “instead of imposing himself in the committee”.
“We are smelling a rat,” he said “We want to know how many cars were brought because we hear 26 vehicles were bought, including some Range Rovers.”
Mr Manyenyeni asked acting town clerk Eng Zvobgo to comment, and he responded: “Under the project, there is a provision of eight cars.”
Pressed further, Eng Zvobgo then said 13 vehicles were bought for the project team.
Cllr Febion Kufahakutizwi argued that the project team already had council vehicles.
Hatcliffe’s Cllr Naboth Munyengera alleged that Dr Mahachi knew the deal would be questioned, hence he absented himself from the meeting. Dr Mahachi sent apologies saying he was unwell.
Council resolved to establish a committee of two councillors and three experts to probe the entire deal after acting chamber secretary Mr Charles Kandemire said it was possible for council to set up such a special team.
A report by consultant engineer Mr Peter Morris shows that council could lose more than US$100 million in the deal because many project items are grossly overpriced.
The city has denied irregularities in the deal.