by Staff Reporter
A company linked to Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Obert Mpofu has virtually elbowed away all other sub-contractors and taken over most the work on the US$500 million Plumtree-Harare-Mutare road rehabilitation project, it emerged.
Sources close to the Infralink highway project say Bitumen World (Pvt) Limited, a company which is “virtually owned” by Mpofu was now doing most of works on the lucrative project, the bulk of whose funding is coming from the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).
Infralink is a joint venture special purpose vehicle (SPV) that was formed between the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA), a government road management company and South African construction firm, Group Five International, to upgrade the Plumtree-Harare-Mutare highway.
ZINARA, a government cash cow that falls under Mpofu’s ministry, holds 70 percent equity in Infralink while Group Five holds the remaining 30 percent. The board of directors for Infralink is made up of executives from both ZANARA and Group Five.
“It is an open secret that that company (Bitumen World) is owned by Mpofu, so it has been getting all the work,” an industry source said this week. “It is a fairly new company and you can see that it is one of those Zimbabwean companies that are formed with a contract already in the back pocket.”
Bitumen World—which specialises in road surfacing, started operations in November 2012 when the multi-million project was already underway, way after the 22 sub-contractors for the project had already been chosen, but it has curiously been able to come into the project and taken over large chucks of the work.
Its directors are listed as Andre Zietsman, Duncan Smith and James Goddard, all construction industry veterans.
“You see, those in the construction industry know that having a construction company without projects to work on is just as good as having a shelf company, so what many are doing is to rope in those politicians they think are influential, and when they get government projects, they inflate the charges and share the loot. This way, even getting paid is very easy… sometimes payment is actually made in advance,” a source said this week.
It is believed that this is the same strategy that was used by former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono and his long-time sidekick Information Communication Technologies minister Supa Mandiwanzira to siphon money from the same Infralink project through their proxy company Tarcon Africa.
It is believed that a conflict of interest between Mpofu and former ZINARA chief executive officer Frank Chitukutuku (who had his as well as former Transport minister Nicholas Goche’s interest to protect) resulted in the later being chucked out last year.
The on-off project, which was supposed to be complete by mid last year, has dragged on amid reports that sub-contractors have been dropping out over non-payment and their slots happily taken over by Bitumen World.
DBSA provided the US$206 million towards the original project plan, which was just to rehabilitate the road. The initial scope of work involved the re-surfacing of the stretch covering Plumtree, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, Kadoma, Harare, Rusape to Mutare. It also included the construction of nine state-of-the-art toll plazas along the highway.
At the insistence of President Robert Mugabe, the project plan was changed to include the dualisation of the 450-kilometre stretch linking Harare and Bulawayo. Government, is currently scrounging around for the additional US$300 million, putting the cumulative cost of the project to just over US$500 million.
Mpofu, who is regarded is one of the most corrupt ministers in President Mugabe’s cabinet, was formerly in the Mines portfolio where he is accused of superintending over the disappearance of billions of dollars in revenue that accrued from the sale of the country’s diamonds. In January, Allied Bank—which he bought in 2013—collapsed and only last week the portly minister closed The Zimbabwe Mail newspaper, which he also owned, citing viability problems.
Mpofu is already pushing for the upgrading of the Masvingo-Harare-Chirundu highway, which is expected to cost not less than $1 billion.