By Brian Chitemba
A team of experts assembled by Government from both the private and public sector to pore over the recent Zinara forensic audit has recommended the recovery of funds that were allegedly bilked from the parastatal and a lifestyle audit for its staff.
A forensic audit by Grant Thornton in 2017 exposed deep-seated rot and corporate malfeasance at Zinara, which prompted the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to commission a team to study the report and come up with actionable recommendations.
The experts mainly raised the red flag on contracts entered between Zinara and Univern for the vehicle licensing system and the computerisation of the tolling system, transit system, road access, radio licence and fuel levy.
The parastatal reportedly engaged Univern in 2012 to computerise the vehicle licensing system without going to tender.
The system was also supplied without specifications.
Univern levied an 18,5 percent commission on gross revenues — excluding value added tax (VAT) — accruing from the licensing system.
As a result, the company was paid over US$36,5 million in the four-year period through to 2016.
“It is the considered view of the investigating team that the agreement is prejudicial to Zinara as the project did not go to tender,” read part of the report compiled by the experts.
“Furthermore, Zinara does not have rights of ownership of the vehicle licensing system, according to the agreement. This means that if Univern is to be removed as the supplier of the system, the vehicle licensing process in the country will collapse as Univern will move out with the current system,” added the report.
The parastatal even shelled out more than US$30 million in commissions to the same company for the computerisation of all toll collections around the country.
A commission of 16 percent on gross revenues was charged for the deal.
However, a separate arrangement for the management of the tolling system on the Plumtree-Bulawayo-Harare-Mutare highway — which was administered by Intertoll — was charging a 5 percent commission for the system.
As a result, Intertoll received US$9 million in the same period for a system that the experts say is actually “more efficient than that of Univern”.
It is believed Zinara could have been prejudiced US$20,7 million in the Univern deal.
In addition, more than US$43 million was paid in commission for transit fees and fuel levy collections in the 2012-2016 period.
Overall, Univern was paid US$110 million for the services.
Controversy was also unearthed in the supply of graders for use by road authorities around the country.
Initially, Univern won a tender to supply 40 graders; however, Zinara ended up purchasing an additional 40, purportedly under the same conditions.
The graders did not meet the set specifications and, notwithstanding overpaying by more than US$1,2 million for the contentious equipment, it could not be ascertained whether the graders were new or not.
Road authorities actually complained about the poor performance of the graders.
Government has now been advised to either review or cancel the contracts “to ensure that Government does not continue to be prejudiced”.
They also want the Plumtree-Bulawayo-Harare-Mutare contract to be reviewed over unexplained cost escalations, which resulted in the project being valued at US$464 million from the initial US$206 million, representing a 125 percent increase.
Most of the sub-contractors engaged and project reviews were reportedly done “behind Government’s back”.
Zinara board chairperson Engineer Michael Madanha told The Sunday Mail some of the contracts are actually being reviewed.
“We are reviewing all contracts with Zinara as most of them are very unfavourable . . .
“We actually started our contracts review with those on vehicle licensing and tolling . . . we are engaging a transactional advisor to negotiate the deals. Both parties are agreeable to negotiate.”
Some of the contracts that are being reviewed include those that were unprocedurally signed when Zinara circumvented local authorities and directly engaged contractors, most of whom did sub-standard work.
Investigators say these companies have to pay back the money.
“Local contractors who prejudiced Zinara and Government through non-performance or sub-standard performance be made to compensate Government,” reads part of the recommendations.
The previous board also stands accused of approving the elevation of staff who had no qualifications.
Even former chief executive officer Mr Frank Chitukutuku’s qualifications could not be authenticated by forensic auditors as personal files were not released.
Further, senior members of staff paid themselves allowances that were not approved by the board and were contrary to their contracts of employment.
Government has since been advised to conduct a lifestyle audit of Zinara staff and to demand reimbursement from members of the previous Wilfred Ramwi-led board who were overpaid.
Action on falsified qualifications by some of the staffers is also being demanded. The Sunday Mail