HARARE – Zimbabwe’s police and an antigraft unit called the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) are combing through an audit to nail looters after an investigation exposed the abuse of almost US$9 million deployed to fund the refurbishment of Robert Mugabe International Airport in 2012, according to official reports.

A controversial State agency called the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (ZINARA), which has the mandate to collect millions from motorists and channel them into rehabilitating collapsing highways, released $11,4 million for the project, ENN understands.

Informed sources said so rampant was delinquency in the multimillion-dollar airport project that even ZINARA itself bullied project implementers into choosing service providers of its own choice.

Everyone with authority in the government hierarchy acted as they pleased, the document shows.

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By so doing, ZINARA violated tender procedures.

However, to date, about seven years after the project was initiated, those behind crimes that have robbed long suffering Zimbabweans still roam the streets without punishment.

ENN can exclusively reveal that most of this funding was diverted into the pockets of big wigs in former president Robert Mugabe’s administration, who lined up their own firms and manipulated the system to win lucrative tenders.

Prices could have been inflated to swindle the cash strapped Zimbabwe government, which has been seeking bailouts from regional peers to stabilise its turbulent economy, according to several documents seen by ENN, as well as confirmation by a senior government official at a recent procurement meeting.

Nyasha Chizu, chief executive officer at the Procurement and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ), revealed during a joint meeting of the Construction Industry Federation of Zimbabwe and State departments that a forensic audit by the office of the auditor general had unearthed extensive plunder, which mirrored the state of affairs across the public sector.

 Nyasha Chizu

He said the Zimbabwe Republic Police and ZACC were ceased the matter.

ENN has been tracking the trail of documents in the airport looting in the past month.

It reveals grave backstage deals struck through extensive muscle flexing by chefs before construction kicked off.

Almost $6 million was taken by chefs who exerted their influence to arm twist those involved in the project.

Excerpts from the forensic audit reveal that auditors had zeroed in and questioned the validity of payment of $282 000 to 55 workers on the project between May 2012 and June 2015.

At least six firms were involved in the looting, all of them linked to those in positions of influence.

Chizu confirmed this but could not name the firms, or their shareholders.

He said US$282 000 was far too high for the number of workers involved in the project adding that the looters were far too high in the government hierarchy for junior project implementers to question.

“When ZINARA availed US$11,4 million, 52 percent was spent on equipment hire (US$5,928 million), 38 percent was spent on road related materials (US$4,332 million),” he said.

“Wages paid to non-full-time employees (were) US$281 967 paid to an average of 55 employees, which may not have been befitting. There have been some forensic audits done on Robert Gabriel International Airport. ZINARA availed $11,4 million, 52 percent was spent on equipment hire (US$5,928 million), 38 percent was spent on road related materials (US$4,332 million), wages paid to non-full-time employees, US$281,967 paid to an average of 55 employees, which was not befitting. Public enterprise bosses were awarded contracts through their companies. How can you supervise your bosses? We have the names of the companies that were involved. They have been referred to the police and to ZACC. Then there were issues about ZINARA’s role. ZINARA was saying engage this contractor, if you don’t engage them the money will be withdrawn. ZINARA was operating outside its mandate, directing the award of contracts to road authorities,” says Chizu.

At the time of the looting, ZINARA was under a previous CEO, and public procurement fell under the disbanded State Procurement Board (SPB), the predecessor to PRAZ.

Chizu said the new team was working on strategies to avoid the shortfalls of SPB.

“When it comes to awarding of contracts they are marred in corruption in the public sector (such as) awarding contracts to your ki­th and kin. When it comes to the public sector, sometimes we do not even have the capacity to manage the contracts. There are some projects where people were paid to construct a road, there was no road delivered, where people were paid to construct a building, there was no building delivered. It all goes down to corruption,” Chizu said.

It is the latest episode of rampant looting, corruption and financial mismanagement in the execution key infrastructure projects like the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Zimbabwe.

The airport refurbishment was part a nationwide programme rolled out about nine years ago to rebuild roads, bridges and other State assets through collections from ZINARA and other State agencies.

Zimbabwe requires about $20 billion to repair its ageing infrastructure, according to the African Development Bank.

But questions have been raised about the durability of the upgrades made at the airport using about half of the allocated funding.

The $11,4 million project was only a stop gap measure that was meant to manage the airport’s condition while government scouted for millions more to carry out a comprehensive modernisation programme, which commence in July last year.

It will be funded to the tune of $153 million through a China Eximbank loan. On completion, the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport will be expanded to handle six million passengers per annum, from the current 2,5 million, according to former Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Joram Gumbo.