BY SYDNEY KAWADZA/TAFADZWA KACHIKO
THE decision by government to acquire fire tenders from Belarus on behalf of local authorities at questionable prices has torched a storm, with observers pointing to possible corruption.
In a communiqué to town clerks, secretaries and chief executive officers dated June 14, Local Government secretary Zvinechimwe Churu said each rural local authority would get one fire tender, urban councils two each and metropolitans three.
“The funds to procure the equipment will be deducted from the 2022 devolution allocations and will be done over a period of 12 months starting March 2022,” Churu said.
“The cost of each fire tender is US$464 296. It is, therefore, advisable for local authorities to reprioritise the devolution funds to accommodate the cost of the fire tenders.”
The country has 92 local authorities in total, meaning that over US$42 million will be used to procure the fire tenders.
Churu said the fire tenders would be acquired on a government-to-government agreement.
But observers yesterday questioned the deal, with many indicating that it would benefit Belarusian business tycoon Alyaksandr Zingman, who reportedly has links to the First Family and government officials.
A 4 000-litre medium six-wheel fire truck costs around US$26 000 in Malaysia, while a foam fire-fighting truck costs between US$26 000 and US$28 000 in China.
Residents and watchdogs said the Local Government ministry’s directive went against the true spirit of devolution, raising concerns that government officials could be lining up to cream off devolution funds under the murky deal.
Masvingo United Residents and Ratepayers Association spokesperson Godfrey Mutimba said the “inflated prices” betrayed a hidden agenda to milk State coffers.
“We smell a rat because the figure is quite ridiculous and has been inflated to unbelievable levels. It’s bad that some government officials have inflated the price and want to benefit by forcing all local authorities to buy the fire tenders at unbelievable prices,” Mutimba said.
“It’s bad and must not be tolerated. We will try to engage councils and convince them not to follow this. It’s also not in line with the true spirit of devolution which entails centralisation of power to local authorities.”
Mutimba further querried: “Government should disburse money to local authorities, which should then consult residents on how to utilise the money. What if Masvingo has other challenging matters like water and sewer reticulation, roads other than the need for fire tenders?”
Chitungwiza and Manyame Rural Residents Association secretary Brighton Mazhindu said: “This is against the spirit of devolution for the central government to make decisions on behalf of local authorities. Who will be accountable to the devolution funds?”
In a statement, the Harare Residents Trust (HRT) said the development was a reminder for the need to fully implement devolution as espoused in the Constitution.
“The government should enact the Devolution Act of Parliament to guide its implementation in compliance with the Constitution,” HRT said.
“The question is who is benefiting from such an arrangement? It’s not local authorities. This can only be a few corrupt individuals who do not understand how devolution works.”
Devolution is provided for under Chapter 12 of the 2013 Constitution, with section 268 of the charter providing for the establishment of provincial councillors in the country’s provinces.
However, to date, there is no enabling act to operationalise devolution despite government approving principles of the Provincial Councils and Administration (Amendment) Bill.
Critics have accused government of lacking political will to fully implement devolution.
Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development programmes manager John Maketo said: “When central government continues to plan, allocate and spend resources on behalf of local governments, essentially the developmental aspirations of the citizens in these local communities are shot down.
“This is why it is imperative to put in place devolution structures such as provincial councils to exercise oversight on management of these public resources. Devolution money is citizen money.”