‘We’re not idiots’: Biti’s public accounts committee demands ZESA audit answers

Costly and idle, the Dema plant: MPs want answers on Sakunda deals

Parliament’s public accounts committee has given ZESA executive chairman Sydney Gata until Friday to fully respond to an audit report that pointed to tender fraud at the power utility.

Gata on Monday appeared before the committee, chaired by Harare East MP Tendai Biti, but could not provide a detailed response to questions on the audit, which was done in 2019 by audit firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The report showed how tender processes were bent to award energy company Sakunda a deal to set up a 200MW diesel power plant in Dema. The report also cast light on corruption in the awarding of a 100MW Gwanda solar plant tender to Intratrek. Both projects have cost the government money, for no return.

“The managers who could have answered these questions are no longer with ZESA. We can research the facts and write to the committee on these questions,” Gata told the committee.

Biti gave Gata until Friday to submit a report on the Sakunda and Intratrek contracts, as well as provide details on US$35 million Afreximbank loan extended in 2012 to help ZESA build substations.

Biti said “we express our great unhappiness, anger and disappointment at the leadership of ZESA” for its failure to respond to the MPs’ questions. ZESA, he ordered, must submit a report by Friday and return to the committee on Monday next week to provide oral answers.

“Our enquiry is not adversarial. It’s not you versus us. It’s about the people of Zimbabwe. Sometimes it gets reduced to (the) adversarial when people refuse to answer questions, take us for granted, or think that we don’t read, or take us for idiots. We might look like idiots, but we’re not idiots,” Biti said.

He added: “ZESA did not come armed with the relevant personnel that was present at the time, either at board level, or at management level, people that would have helped this committee answer specific questions arising out of the 2019 audit report.”

ZESA’s dema contract

In 2015, according to the PwC report, government awarded Sakunda a tender to build a diesel power plant at Dema. Sakunda had not even participated in the tender, which had been won by APR, an American firm.

Having been handed the contract, Sakunda then went on to subcontract Aggreko, one of the losing bidders, as a technical partner in the project, the audit found.

Gata told the MPs that the Dema project had since been dropped.

He said: “When our board, the in-service board, was deployed to ZESA, we were given a list of projects to review and advise on what should be done about them. They were already recognised as not the best choices, and Dema was one of them. I’m pleased to confirm that, at the very instance of the first board meeting, the Dema project was cancelled. There was an attempt to revisit it, but that didn’t succeed.”

However, Biti insisted that, despite the cancellation, Parliament needed to know why the contract had been awarded to Sakunda in the first place.

“Why was Sakunda preferred over the three companies that the ZESA units had already approved? What was so special about Sakunda,” Biti said.

According to Biti, ZESA must also detail terms of the 2012 Afreximbank loan.

Advising Gata of the questions that the committee will put to ZESA managers when they return to Parliament on Monday, Biti said: “Who signed that agreement? Was Parliamentary approval obtained? What were the terms of the term sheet? What was the money used for?”

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