CONSTRUCTION machinery and equipment worth millions of dollars meant for the refurbishment of Morton Jaffray Waterworks under the $144 million Chinese loan facility is reportedly stuck at Forbes Border Post as the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) is demanding import duty although the project has been granted national project status.
Top executives at China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) which won the contract to refurbish the city’s water pipeline yesterday threatened to stop shipment of additional material if Zimra continues with its demands.
Some of the seized goods include an ambulance, forklifts and several containers of workshop material.
The company’s chief representative, Zhang Xin, told members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environment during a tour of the water purification plant that the project was being stalled by internal fights between Zimra and Harare City Council.
“Several containers with workshop equipment, forklifts and other goods to be used for the project was being kept by Zimra. They can’t give us rebate, but we have the national project status. Maybe there is a problem between Harare City Council and Zimra,” Xin said.
Recently Zimra garnished council bank accounts and seized $40 million for outstanding taxes, resulting in the city failing to pay its workers and improving in service delivery.
“This is a loan borrowed by the government of Zimbabwe for this project. It’s not investment money. This is now affecting our schedule. Our equipment is now stuck at the border and Zimra has been charging storage fees. CMEC should now pay, but if this persists, we will stop shipment of additional equipment,” he said.
“We are only contractors and the government of Zimbabwe should clear the goods for us.”
He also said the China Eximbank was delaying releasing part of the money for the project adding that this was also affecting their schedule.
Committee chairperson Annastancia Ndhlovu (Zanu PF Shurugwi South MP) rapped Zimra for stalling the project through its tax demands.
“We don’t expect Zimra to delay such a project that will benefit millions of people,” Ndhlovu said.
Bulawayo MP Thamsanqa Mahlangu questioned why council officials gave members of the committee bottled water if they were confident that council water was clean. Council officials were at pains to explain why, but argued that their water met World Health Organisation standards.
The $144 million deal has never been short of controversy from the beginning amid reports of rampant abuse by council executives who allegedly inflated prices for goods purchased for the project.
Part of the money was also used to purchase state-of-the-art vehicles for council officials, raising the ire of residents and councillors who claimed the transactions were fraught with irregularities.
The project, according to council, was meant to replace or pipes, pressure-reducing valves and ageing equipment at the waterworks to increase water supply to 80% of the Harare population.