…the story of Masvingo’s stalled US$2 million Mucheke Trunk Sewer project
The Mucheke Trunk Sewer project dates back to 2012 when the then Masvingo mayor, the late Femius Chakabuda, confirmed in one interview that work on the project was already underway and was expected to be complete by 2013.
The project is probably the biggest blight on both council management and councillors who were in office that time because seven years later, the project remains uncompleted.
The deep trenches have become a hazard to man and to the environment, and many of the fibrous pipes still lie unattended in the open veld; some of them being vandalised.
With the expansion of the city partly due to the growth of the sprawling peri-urban settlement of Victoria Ranch, council realised the need to upgrade the sewer system which last received such attention in the late 1990s.
The tender was awarded to Mutual Constructions and work on the project started in 2012 but there were numerous twists and turns.
Work was abruptly stopped in 2013 despite the contractor having received US$2 million upfront to do the project.
The project was initiated when Chakabuda was mayor, with Adolf Gusha, who retired at the end of August this year, being town clerk.
Chakabuda left council in 2013 and was replaced by Hubert Fidze who also left in 2018 and was replaced by current mayor Collen Maboke.
Fidze still maintains that the contractor stopped the work as the initial cost of the project was underestimated by the previous council board.
“Many things went wrong but chief among them was the underestimation of the project cost. As you may know, the project was initiated by the council that came before us in 2013. They were responsible for the costing and deal-making,” said Fidze.
Gusha is on record admitting that council had not done the feasibility study prior to the start of the project, and council had to engage a South African consultant for the study. This raised eyebrows as to how the tender process was conducted in the first place.
Latest investigations, have, however, revealed that council negotiated a bad deal and agreed to sign a defective agreement which would favour the contractor in case of a dispute.
“They negotiated a very bad deal and agreed to pay the contractor all the money at once. They must have negotiated for the money to be paid in phases depending on progress on the project. The terms of the agreement were such that council would be powerless to act should there be a dispute, and that is exactly what happened.
“Doesn’t it surprise you that council has made no attempt to recover any of the money paid to the contractor and hasn’t even attempted to sue in light of the fact that the contractor failed to deliver on a project he was fully paid to do?” said a source who is privy to the details.
Mutual Constructions stopped all work and moved away its equipment after efforts to ‘extort’ a further US$2.5 million using arguments that the project needed more money due to unforeseeable cost overheads, was rebuffed.
When Gusha retired, he was replaced by current acting town clerk Edward Mukaratirwa who has pledged to mobilise ‘internal’ council resources and complete the project by the end of 2020.
He has, however, failed to explain how he could achieve that in face of deteriorating revenue accruals which have seen council collecting, on average, a measly $1 million dollars per month against a target of $3 million.
In his recent interview with TellZim News, Mukaratirwa said basing on the technical advice that council has, the sewer line will be completed in three years’ time.
"As council, we resolved to mobilise internal resources for the completion of the project. We will also use funds allocated by government through devolution to do the work," Mukaratirwa said.
"We also plan to approach Victoria Ranch residents through the land developers to make them contribute a levy towards the completion of the sewer line since they are the direct beneficiaries of the project. Whatever happens there (at Victoria Ranch) affects us so it's only fair to engage them. We have a council resolution to that effect," said Mukaratirwa.
He said council bought pipes for the project from Turnall in Bulawayo a few years back, but has not been able to transport them due to the cost, but a recent disbursement of $624 000 from government will go towards that.
"The $624 000 we received from government is all going towards the transportation of the pipes we bought. The tender process has been completed and transportation will start in November through to December," Mukaratirwa said.
It remains to be seen whether or not council will use these funds for the stated purpose in face of ‘more pressing’ challenges like depressed pumping at the Bushmead Water Works caused by many factors including crippling power cuts and frequent machinery breakdowns.
"Work on the ground will probably start at the end of the rainy season and by then, we hope all the materials required for the completion of the first phase will be in place," Mukaratirwa said.
Assuming that work on the ground will start early 2020, the project's completion will be 10 years behind schedule.
In 2015, council advertised in the media its intention to borrow US$1.7 million for the completion of the project, and after getting the nod to borrow, council confirmed that work was to commence soon afterwards.
In a notice published in the Sunday Mail on June 15, Gusha revealed that the trunk sewer project requires the massive capital injection to be completed.
"Masvingo City Council has resolved to apply to the Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing of Borrowing Powers in the sum of One Million seven hundred thousand dollars (US$1700 000)," reads part of the notice.
The notice also states that the money is needed for the trunk main sewer completion, trunk water main and the trunk road.
It was reported that the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) had agreed to lend council some US$900 000 to be used for the resumption of work on the project.
Nssa reportedly also pledged a further US$1.7 million subject to government approval, but work on the project has not resumed up to now, with some council insiders saying the pensions authority had backtracked in light of the inflationary economic environment which is detrimental to lenders.
Some residents recently complained that they suspected council had increased bills behind their backs as part of desperate efforts to raise new funding for the project.
In 2017, council spent $500 000 on vehicles for deputy directors and what they termed ‘other uses’, a development which caused serious disagreements between councillors and management.
Council minutes dating back to 2017 state that the trunk sewer project is only 68 percent complete due to lack of funds.