By Moses Matenga
A fresh storm has hit the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) after the parastatal proposed to award a million-dollar deal to its perennial contractor Univern, a deal seen as a corrupt way to award political cronies, it has emerged.
This came as Zinara has fired 30 tollgate cashiers for alleged fraud and theft. Fourteen of them were stationed at Skyline tollgate along the Harare-Masvingo Highway, while the other 16 were from Dema, Shurugwi and Shamva tollgates.
This also followed the resignation of board vice-chairperson Runyararo Jambo recently over a reported “tenderpreneurship scam” at Zinara running into several millions of dollars.
Documents seen by NewsDay show that Zinara has again approached Univern, a firm whose other dealings with the parastatal have been under scrutiny, to take over key operations under the guise of a tollgate co-management action plan.
However, the move has reportedly caused discontent within Zinara and government with some viewing it as sinister and opening doors for graft by individuals
given the links between parties involved.
Univern chief executive officer Phillimon Mushosho confirmed the Zinara proposal, but could not give details on the matter.
“It hasn’t happened. It is still a proposal. The best will be for Zinara to comment because they approached us, but there is nothing concrete on the ground,” he said.
“I think it is to try and minimise leakages because we have in the past demonstrated that we are able to bring efficiency in the revenue collection process,” Mushosho said.
Zinara board chairperson Michael Madanha said fears of looting in the proposed deal were being raised by “thieves”.
“I don’t know who gave you that story because it is still a proposal. I think in Zinara there are people who leak information to the media. Some of those things will be rectified so just talk to the CEO because it is implementation but overally the strategic objective is to improve revenue collection. Right now we are facing a lot of leakages.”
On allegations that the move was meant to open serious looting, the former Transport deputy minister said: “Those people are the real thieves we are chasing away. It is logical that we are trying to close on leakages and somebody thinks otherwise. We have people who have been doing what they want and definitely they are the ones leaking this information.”
Ironically Madanha, who is also Zanu PF deputy provincial chairperson for Mashonaland East, was appointed by his party provincial chairman, Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Joel Biggie Matiza, a development critics were now using against them.
Under the arrangement, Zinara wants Univern to co-manage tollgates ostensibly to improve operational efficiencies and reduce revenue leakages.
“Objectives of the co-management arrangement will improve tollgate safety and security, strengthen the internal control environment at the tollgates,” the documents read in part.
Among the challenges outlined by the current system were under-banking of collected revenue, abuse of exemptions (residential and government exemptions), abuse of pass lanes and illegal detours.
Under the arrangement, Zinara will furnish Univern with all tollgate employees’ information for review while the same company will have to procure using Zinara funds.
Employees view the move as a way to push them out and recruit cronies to allow looting though it has been presented as a way to eliminate bank variances, reduce revenue leakages and improve the revenue collection process.
Eyebrows have also been raised on the proposed procurement protocol that will see Univern participating on the technical specifications of items to be purchased.
“There must be an agreed turnaround time to procure requested items. Failure of which, Univern will go ahead and procure using Zinara funds,” the document read.
Under the arrangement, overall responsibility of the tollgate operations will still be done by Zinara that will also continue to manage its staff while Univern will manage the processes and procedures with regards to revenue collection.
According to the plan, the process will require change management, retraining and operational realignment and will be done in phases.
The board chairperson is reportedly racing against time to fire at least 246 employees on fixed term contracts and replace them with his new people.
At least 17 workers have won their hearing cases, but were given dismissal letters amid fears of capture of the tollgates.
Concern has also been raised on the capacity of Univern that entered into an agreement with Zinara in October 2012 to computerise tollgate revenue collection operations on a public-private-partnership (PPP) agreement basis.
“Univern has never serviced their gadgets, not even changed their computers since 2013 to date. We have books and up to 20 000 recorded errors showing malfunctions of their system.
“Their system is defective and deficient such that we can spend the whole day denouncing it,” a source privy to events at the parastatal said.
The suspicions also come at a time eyebrows were raised after Madanha engaged a security company, Ex-Combatants Security Services, allegedly linked to cronies to man tollgates across the country ignoring an existing bidder that won the tender after being approved by the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe.
He, however, denied involvement with the said security company.
Sources said the manner in which Univern was always being picked to do work for Zinara and other companies in government was now raising suspicion of possible looting.
In 2012, the company won a tender to supply 40 motorised graders worth $8 million to Zinara before it won a deal with Zinara in 2013 to supply vehicle licensing software.
The deal was allegedly awarded without going through a tender process since it was a PPP agreement.
Impeccable sources said the strategy was to hand over tollgates to Univern for 10 years.
The source added that a draft memorandum of understanding was already in place and Zinara will only get deposits of what has been collected by Univern but without control.
“The Roads Act speaks to road user charges being collected by Zinara not Univern. It can’t be a board chairman issue without Matiza announcing it himself. Definitely it’s not a clean transaction.” NewsDay