Mpofu set to reap large in $1,3 bln road project

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by Staff Reporter

Obert Mpofu

Obert Mpofu

CORRUPT Transport and Infrastructural Development minister, Obert Mpofu, has successfully wrestled the $1,3 billion tender for the dualisation of the Beitbridge-Chirundu highway from a consortium of local contractors that won it in 2003 and have been battling to get work started as politicians demanding huge kickbacks continued to throw spanners.

Sources said this week that Mpofu had arm-twisted ZimHighways, a consortium of several Zimbabwean civil construction firms into withdrawing a court case in which it was fighting the government over the cancellation of the billion-plus dollar tender. The sources said it is highly likely that the tender would be given to South Africa’s Group Five International, the firm that is winding up work on the $500 million project to upgrade the Plumtree to Mutare highway, a project on which Mpofu’s firm, Bitumen World, is now virtually the main contractor.

Last week ZimHighways issued a statement in which it announced that it was withdrawing the protracted court challenge it was mounting in the High Court challenging government arbitrary decision to withdraw the tender, saying it had come into an agreement with the State.

“Zimhighways and the Government of Zimbabwe, through the Minister of Finance have agreed as follows: Zimhighways undertakes to withdraw the matter,” the consortium announced in a press statement flighted in the national press and co-signed by Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa.

“The withdrawal of litigation by Zimhighways is to allow the Minister both scope and free hand to initiate and undertake negotiations for an appropriate financing model for, inter alia, the upgrading and dualisation of the Beitbridge/Harare road, free from litigation.”

The consortium said in return, the government had agreed to ensure local contractors, including Zimhighways, would be sub-contracted in the project.

The so-called agreement comes more than a month after Mpofu’s ministry had invited local and foreign firms to submit bids for consulting services on the Harare-Masvingo-Beitbridge dualisation project.

In November last year, Mpofu announced that his ministry was going to ignore the court challenge and proceed to engage other firms on the project.

Mpofu told stakeholders in Victoria Falls attending a familiarisation tour of the Victoria Falls International Airport that Government had decided to go ahead with works on the road regardless of the outcome of the court case.

“We have decided to say no, we cannot wait for the court case. We need to start doing something and we have already approached a number of financiers to come on board. This is our busiest road and can’t be held back forever by a court case.”

In 2003, the government awarded the Zimhighways—a consortium of 14 construction firms including Murray & Roberts (now Masimba Holdings), Costain Africa (now ZCL Holdings), Kuchi Building Construction, Tarcon, Bitcon, Joina Development Company and Southland Engineers – for the dualisation of the highway.

The project hardly took off, amid accusations and counter-accusations between the government and the consortium. The government said the consortium had failed to prove it had the financial capacity to execute the project, while Zimhighways accused government officials of demanding bribes and throwing spanners in its works.

The consortium also accused the government of going behind its back to negotiate a separate deal with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), with which Zimhighways had agreed on a funding plan.

It was with the funding from the$206 million loan from DBSA that the government embarked on the

Plumtree-Bulawayo-Harare-Mutare project, executed through Infralink, a joint venture special purpose vehicle (SPV) that was formed between the Zimbabwe National Road Administration (ZINARA), a government road agency and Group Five.

It is on this project that Mpofu has been making a killing and insiders say he is set to make more from the new project.

“Just like in the Infralink project, Mpofu will be the biggest winner,” a source said this week.

“He made sure that he grabbed the project from ZimHighways so that he could give it to Group Five which would ensure that his company, Bitumen World, does most of the work.”

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.

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“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 told early this year.

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.

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