Reports that the Comptroller and Auditor-General Mildred Chiri is instigating investigations into alleged irregularities in the award of a tender for the production of new vehicle number plates is timely.
Zimbabwean motorists are being forced to folk out $160 to change to the new number plates.
Government set the December 31 deadline for the change-over, and defiant motorists can be fined and have their vehicles impounded.
What is even more disturbing are reports that police have already started impounding vehicles with old number plates after the government directed that those motorists that failed to meet the deadline should park their vehicles.
But the motoring public is not simply refusing to abide by the government directive.
The public has voiced the concern that the new number plates’ change-over is too costly. It defies logic for the public to pay such ridiculous amounts for no apparent justification.
The $160 per set of new number plates is a lot of money and it is quite obvious that the actual production cost of the plates is probably less than 10% of this amount.
If the change-over is deemed to be of national importance, surely government should have found a way to make it easier and more cost-effective.
Besides, the cost of new number plates is beyond the reach of most civil servants.
In fact many questions still need to be answered. How did the government come up with such a figure?
Governments all over the world provide a service to their citizens.
They are not there to make super profits.
In this case, the relevant government department owes the motoring public an explanation.
Did the authorities consider civil servants?
Who is benefiting in what has now proved to be a multi-million dollar scheme?
The relevant ministry need not be reminded that money does not grow on trees.
This is why we applaud Chiri for the interest her department has taken in this issue.
It is our hope that the auditor general will dig deeper, and establish not only how the tender was handled, but other corruption cases in the same ministry, and elsewhere in government departments.
The fact that Chiri has already received a dossier detailing how tender procedures were flouted in the award of the contract is evidence that something is amiss, and the public has a right to know who pegged the price.
That dossier should also spur Transport minister Nicholas Goche and Secretary Partson Mbiriri to get to the bottom of the matter.
Surprisingly, Mbiriri wrote an article last week defending government’s heavy-handed way of dealing with motorists who missed the deadline but did not respond to complaints that the number plates were overpriced.
Curiously, we now understand, according to media reports at the weekend, that some officials in the Ministry of Transport had a hand in ensuring that Southern Region Trading Company, a private firm, got the tender for producing the number plates.
We have every reason to believe that there were some underhand dealings in the award of the tender according to the dossier that has been sent to the auditor general.
The same company in 2007 was reportedly awarded a tender to supply 22 Nissan trucks to the Vehicle Inspection Department and paid $500 000, but reportedly failed to deliver. Government must move with speed and act against corruption in the public sector.