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Row over public works contracts

Faith Zaba

A ROW is brewing over potentially corrupt selection of architects for major government public works projects, amid allegations that plum contracts are mostly being given to Zanu PF-aligned consultants.
In interviews with Zimbabwe Independent, local architects accused the ministry of public works and other government departments of favouring a few individuals connected to Zanu PF when selecting architects to design and supervise major government projects.
However, senior officials in the ministry of public works dismissed allegations of corruption in the awarding of contracts, saying the nomination of consultants was done on merit, not cronysm.
But a Harare-based architect said: “There are about 30 to 40 black architects in the country, but government works programmes are being given to just a few people. One person who has benefitted the most is JB (Joel Biggy) Matiza, when there are so many other architects who can also do the job.
“This has always been a big issue among local architects. Matiza has a big advantage over other architects because he is an MP and he gets to know about state projects before us.
“We have always been advocating the equitable distribution of public programmes. One way of making the process more transparent and accountable would be to subject the process to design competitions. This way, the best company wins and it also deals with corruption.”
Some of the big projects which Matiza’s Studio Arts company designed include the first proposed parliament building which was supposed to be constructed in the Kopje area but has since been shifted to Mount Hampden; the unfinished Central Registry offices; Interpol offices; the Social Security Centres; Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and Kariba airports; Zimdef building in Bulawayo; and the Bindura, Chinhoyi, Lupane and Masvingo state universities.
The most recent contract awarded to Matiza is the Victoria Falls United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference project, expected to cost US$1 billion, involving the construction of two hotels, a shopping mall, convention centre and a golf course.
Architects are paid 6% of the total cost of the project, while quantity surveyors get 3% and engineers 5%.
However, Public Works permanent secretary Engineer George Mlilo said Matiza was awarded the contracts on merit.
He said a consultant is usually chosen from a pool of architects depending on the project.
Mlilo said they consider the architect’s track record and his or her company’s ability to design and supervise the project.
“We know all the consultants and we know their performance and their track record and from that we then decide who to commission to do the design and supervise the project,” he said.
“Some of these architects don’t supervise to our satisfaction. Some of them don’t perform; they don’t have the staff to supervise and monitor the projects and this comes out in their reports. We choose the ones that have a reputation to deliver, which Matiza has.
“He designed the proposed parliament building and this has not been implemented and I am not sure if we even paid him for that project. Normally, we don’t pay fully until the project is implemented. University jobs are a repeat job.”
Mlilo said there are 520 government capital projects, which are at a standstill because of lack of funding. These range from hospitals, to decentralised registry offices and clinics.
“These projects are spread across local architects. Our aim is to finish up the projects that we started because we are losing our investment on these projects the longer we take,” he said.
Another top official in the ministry pointed out that “just like you, you go to the best doctor, you don’t just go to any. We choose the best person for the job. We can’t give everyone. Matiza is a very good architect and he is very enterprising. We look at company profiles as well”. (See page 5)

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