Parliament storm over Belarus fire trucks scandal; Minister dodges questions




Mr Tendai Biti

LOCAL government deputy minister Marian Chombo had a torrid time in Parliament Wednesday as legislators demanded answers over a controversial government deal to procure fire-fighting trucks from Belarus.

Earlier this week, a letter from the minister’s permanent secretary was leaked directing local authorities to set aside funds to pay for fire tenders the Ministry is buying from Belarus.

Critics said the prices for the trucks were heavily inflated, adding that planned procurement was yet another corrupt deal by under-fire local government minister July Moyo.

Moyo is reportedly under investigation by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) over a US$9,3 million scandal involving the rehabilitation of pumps at Harare’s Morton Jeffray Water Works in 2019.

In a letter to city and town councils supposedly from the local government permanent secretary’s office, the Ministry indicated that it was procuring fire tenders from Belarus whose authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko is a close ally of Mnangagwa.

“The funds to procure the equipment will be deducted from the 2022 Devolution allocations and will be done over a period of twelve months starting March 2022. the cost of each fire tender is USD464,296.“It is therefore advisable for local authorities to reprioritise the Devolution funds to accommodate the cost of the fire tenders.”

Local government deputy minister Marian Chombo

The opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) has already indicated that councils it controls will not pay for the fire tenders.

Its legislators demanded answers from deputy local government minister Marian Chombo in Parliament Wednesday. She repeatedly evaded the questions but was pressed until she committed to bring a Ministerial statement to the House.

Below is a transcript of the exchanges from Parliament’s Hansard publication;

HON. MATEWU: Thank you Mr. Speaker Sir. My question is directed to the Minister for Local Government and Public Works. In view of devolution and decentralization, there are three levels of Government as in the Constitution; the national, provincial and local authority. I want to reference to Section 274 (1 of our Constitution which states that these manage their own affairs. I want to ask the Minister why there is interference from Central Government shoving down the throats of local authorities, for example yesterday to purchase fire tenders on their behalf. What kind of law is the Minister using to do this illegality? I thank you. – [HON. ZWIZWAI: She is there! She is there!] –

THE HON. SPEAKER: Sorry, sorry, sorry. Hon. Zwizwai, you advise the Chair politely. – [HON. ZWIZWAI: I am sorry Sir!] –

THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS (HON. CHOMBO): Thank you Hon. Speaker Ma’am and Hon. Matewu for that very pertinent question. You started very well that we have three tiers of Government which is the central, provincial and the local authority, and they work in unison. I do not see anywhere where the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works has interfered in the affairs of local authorities. – [HON. T. MLISWA: You sit on councils!] – We do not interfere. I thank you.

THE HON. DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order, order Hon. Mliswa!

HON. MATEWU: Madam Speaker Ma’am, the Hon. Minister did not answer my question, she just skirted around. However, my supplementary question is that the local authorities have to follow the Procurement Act. Why is the Procurement Act not being followed in ordering all local authorities to take their devolution funds and pay Belarus without any procurement? Why was this allowed to happen?

THE HON DEPUTY SPEAKER: Hon. Matewu, you are not connected. HON.

MATEWU: Thank you Madam Speaker Ma’am, I will repeat my question. My supplementary to the Hon. Minister is that the Procurement Act is very clear on how one buys any tender. Why is the Hon. Minister flounting the Procurement Act in ordering every single authority to buy fire tenders from Belarus which they did not even ask for? They are taking this money from devolution funds that must be spent in devolved provinces which make their own decisions and own affairs? I thank you.

HON. CHOMBO: Thank you very much Hon. Speaker Ma’am and thank you very much Hon. Matewu for the follow-up question. We follow PRAZ regulations, and there is nowhere my Ministry has by[1]passed those processes. – [HON. MEMBERS: Was there a tender? Was there a tender?] – If there is any that you feel that we have not followed the laid down procedures, you are free to approach my office. I thank you. – [HON. MEMBERS: Inaudible interjections.] –

THE HON. DEPUTY SPEAKER: Hon. Zwizwai, please take your seat?

HON. T. MLISWA: Madam Speaker, my point of order is that the Hon. Minister must not insult this House. We are the ones who make laws, we know PRAZ and there is no way you can say that they were bought. The question here is that you violated PRAZ and if you say that there is a tender, can you furnish us with the tender number? There was no tender number in the report. It was a corrupt directive and it is difficult to ask a Minister who is also implicated in the corruption – that is where the problem is. Where is the tender number Madam Speaker? When was it tendered? Where are the adverts? This is PRAZ and we are the ones who put the law. An advertisement is made, and PRAZ regulations are followed. Cabinet is not above PRAZ, no one is above PRAZ. Can she tell us when they tendered the advert?

HON. CHOMBO: Thank you Madam Speaker Ma’am and thank you very much Hon. Mliswa for the follow-up question. As I stated before, my Ministry follows the PRAZ Regulations, and if there is any tender that you feel we did not follow instructions, you are free to write down or request for me to provide details of how that was done. I thank you. (v)HON. MADZIMURE: Thank you Madam Speaker. Can the Hon. Minister give an undertaking to the House that she is going to come back with the fire tender documents, and also the Pomona deal …

THE HON. DEPUTY SPEAKER: Hon. Deputy Minister, are you listening? Hon. Madzimure, please may you repeat your question? (v)HON. MADZIMURE: Madam Speaker, I am asking the Hon. Minister to furnish the House with the tender documents for the fire tenders that she said her Ministry is going to purchase on behalf of local authorities and also the Pomona deal tender documents so that Parliament sees whether they were in compliance with PRAZ regulations.

HON. CHOMBO: Thank you very much Hon. Speaker Ma’am and thank you very much Hon. Madzimure for the follow-up question. As I said before, I reiterate that we follow procedures, and you are asking about the fire tenders and Pomona deal – that is too specific. I request that you put that in writing and I will be able to respond to it. HON. GONESE: On a point of order Madam Speaker.

THE HON. DEPUTY SPEAKER: What is your point of order? – [HON. MADZIMURE: Inaudible interjection.] – Order Hon. Madzimure. HON. GONESE: My point of order emanates from the point that during question time on policy issues, we would expect Hon. Ministers and Deputy Ministers to be conversant with what is happening in their respective ministries to which they have been appointed to superintend as Hon. Ministers and Deputy Ministers respectively. Hon. Matewu asked a question which was very clear and unambiguous, it related to the provisions of the Constitution which is the supreme law of the land, which is above any other law or any other procedures. The Hon. Deputy Minister is not responding to the questions which have been asked both in relation to the original question and the supplementary questions, she is just skirting around the issues. I submit Madam Speaker, that as the Chair who is presiding over these august proceedings, it is incumbent upon you to direct the Hon. Deputy Minister to directly respond to questions on issues which must be at her finger tips. When we are dealing with such an issue which involves tenders for all local authorities, that is an issue which any Hon. Deputy Minister in terms of the Constitution, should be aware of and this request for it to be put in writing is simply being evasive. I submit that you must direct her to respond to the questions or in the alternative that she must come up with a comprehensive Ministerial Statement which will deal with those issues relating to both the fire tenders and the Pomona deal which are very topical in our country. They are concerning the people of Zimbabwe and we have a Government which is subverting the Constitution – [HON. MEMBERS: Inaudible interjections.] –

THE HON. DEPUTY SPEAKER: I talked to the Deputy Minister and she agreed that she will bring a comprehensive Ministerial Statement next week on Thursday – [HON. MEMBERS: Inaudible interjections.] –

THE HON. DEPUTY SPEAKER: Hon. Sithole, please switch off your microphone.

HON. BITI: On a point of order Madam Speaker. My point of order is can the Minister, in his statement, outline the legal provisions which is empowering him to… Hon. Sithole having stood and continued to talk, disregarding the Chairperson’s comments. THE HON. DEPUTY SPEAKER: Hon. Sithole, please take your seat. – [HON. MEMBERS: Inaudible interjections] –

HON. BITI: Can the Minister in his statement, clarify and explain to the House the legal provisions that he is acting on. Can he also explain why he is now allocating devolution funds when we do not have a devolution law actualising the provisions of Chapter 14 of the Constitution and Section 301 of the Constitution? So, if the Minister’s statement can speak to the law, why is there by passing of the Procurement Act? Why is there by passing of the autonomy of local authorities and why are devolution funds being used in the absence of a devolution law in consistence of Chapter 14 and Section 301 of the Constitution? I thank you very much.

HON. MARKHAM: Madam Speaker, my point of order is, you recognized me before Hon. Madzimure, I have two points of order. I will just want to add a point of clarity to the Ministerial Statement and my issue is a very simple one. In order to get the tender, they must have received letters from the various local authorities applying for tenders. My second issue is even more important than all of that; why ordering tenders when we have got no water in the councils? THE

HON. DEPUTY SPEAKER: The Hon. Deputy Minister will include all those in the Ministerial Statement.

Source: Newzim