The construction of the long-awaited Bulawayo-Nkayi Road is mired in fresh controversy following revelations that some government officials have been allegedly stealing materials such as cement meant for road upgrades.
Construction of the 155-kilometre road linking Bulawayo and Nkayi Centre in Matabeleland North started as far back as 1993 and was supposed to be completed by 1999, but only 50 kilometres of the road has been widened and tarred so far.
Delays in the completion of one of the most important roads in Matabeleland North as it is supposed to link farmers to markets and improve access to the region’s referral hospital in Bulawayo has often been used to justify claims that the government has an agenda to marginalise Matabeleland.
Investigations by CITE revealed that there are cases of alleged theft of materials meant for the construction of the road that some workers in the provincial department of roads feel are being swept under the carpet.
Over the course of four months, this publication was engaged with several officials within the Transport and Infrastructural Development ministry including the Public Service Commission (PSC) to get down to the bottom of this matter, who established there was ‘bad blood’ between workers and management but could not find evidence of theft.
The workers feel the rampant stealing of materials is contributing to the delays in the construction of the road.
After engagements with sources who raised a lid on these issues, CITE obtained an internal report by a senior employee in the department of roads in Nkayi detailing how cases of theft of materials dating as far back as 2010 had allegedly not been addressed in a suspected cover-up that also involved law enforcement agencies.
“In 2019 I was approached by one of our contract workers who told me that cement meant for stabilising gravel for pothole patching was not used on the road but (was) sold,” reads part of the dossier titled: Report on stolen cement and misuse of government vehicle.
“The truck is also sometimes used to carry gold aggregate at night.
“A man I had given a lift to said even the quarry stone is sold, he is a builder (and) he once used the stone.”
In the report, the supervisor detailed several attempts he made to try and stop the alleged theft of materials, but was thwarted by his superiors.
He said he established that the theft of materials was rampant after asking his subordinates to write to him anonymously.
“I asked all contract workers to tell me what was happening with the cement and the truck (and) gave them papers to write,” he revealed.
“They wrote quantities and dates when cement was taken. I informed the Public Service Commission in Nkayi and we tried to make some preliminary investigations of which sentinels were put to monitor my movements.
“I then took those reports to the member in charge (Zimbabwe Republic Police) Nkayi for advice
“He then said it’s better he assigns some police (officers) to help me, which he did.
“(I) also informed the provincial roads engineer in writing and copied the PSC Nkayi.”
The supervisor said police recorded statements from the contract workers, but when one of his bosses was informed of the reports, he directed that a government car he was using should be taken away from him.
He said the named boss dismissed the claims by the contract workers and warned them that they risked losing their jobs if they continued talking about the theft.
The supervisor said he was also warned about writing letters to the PSC about the alleged theft and was threatened with dismissal.
“The contract workers then wrote about this, detailing the dates and quantity of cement that went missing,” said another source in the department.
“This was in 2019.”
Contract workers in the department claimed they had recordings detailing the alleged theft of materials meant for the Bulawayo-Nkayi Road and several other grievances that included claims of sexual harassment and victimisation of workers.
Mariko Mlauzi, Matabeleland North provincial senior maintenance officer, is one of the senior officials in the roads departments accused by the supervisors and contract workers of covering up the alleged corruption and other misdeeds around the construction of the road.
Mlauzi dismissed the allegations in an interview with CITE, saying the person behind them was “deranged”.
“We know the person behind this, he has been going around seeking attention. He also approached a political party, the Mthwakazi Republic Party, where the issue was even a focal point in their Nkayi rally to a point that we thought our lives were now in danger,” he said.
“The lead person making these claims is mentally deranged.”
Mlauzi said maintenance and construction of roads was done by different departments, which made claims that delays in the construction of the Bulawayo-Nkayi Road was due to theft of materials untrue.
“These two are different as road construction is done by another engineer, responsible for construction,” he added.
This has always been the responsibility of the road engineer and delay of the Nkayi road has nothing to do with this, but is a national problem due to financial challenges.
“We do what we can with the available funds.”
He added: “If we are given $5 million, we work, but if the money is exhausted, we stop work and stop the workers because they cannot go on working when there is no money to pay them or to hire equipment.”
Matabeleland North police spokesperson Inspector Glory Banda said cases that happened in 2010 could only be verified with the courts.
The Matabeleland North Provincial Road Engineer, a Mr Ncube who at the time was on leave directed questions to the acting provincial road engineer, a Mr Nyikaramba.
Mr Nyikaramba referred questions to the Director of Human Resources at the transport ministry, Mr Murongwani.
Mr Murongwani referred these questions to the Permanent Secretary, Engineer Kudzanayi Chinyanga, whose office directed queries to the Transport and Infrastructural Development ministry’s communications officer Judith Nhau.
Nhau told CITE that the theft and corruption cases that were being referred to had conclusively been dealt with by the ministry.
“The matter was dealt with and reports were sent and fully furnished with the PSC and they are in a better position to give you access for the reports you are requesting,” Nhau said.
PSC Head for Strategic Planning and Programme Management, Dr Edson Badarai, who is in charge of what happens in the provinces in terms of service delivery while making sure government workers behave and do their proper job, had to task a team to go and investigate the matter in Nkayi.
The team took weeks to compile a report.
“We talked to the (Transport) Ministry after our investigations. The ministry did two visits to Nkayi and they interviewed the staff who were there on the issue of alleged theft of cement and all that,” Dr Badarai said.
“Now what we came up with is that there’s a bad working relationship between a superintendent and a supervisor.”
However, the PSC head claimed the investigation team could not get evidence or any corroborative papers that cement was stolen.
“As we were trying to think about this, we asked ourselves how we could fail to get evidence if these things were stolen. The preliminary issues were that this was stolen during construction of the roads,” Dr Badarai said.
Without evidence to say this was stolen, made the case challenging, he added.
“We need witnesses or the cement was part of the construction that we have already done but without evidence now to continue to say because someone said someone has stolen and we say, ‘yes, they have stolen, it becomes difficult.’”
Dr Badarai said his assumption was perhaps there could be connections at hand but ruled that out after the transport ministry’s head office sent teams to Nkayi twice.
“The teams went to verify twice and they have no personal interest in Nkayi processes. They couldn’t get anything to support the allegations,” he said and suggested that the complainant or the publication provide evidence to that effect.
“Maybe if this person has evidence or if you through your investigations share that then we also share with the ministry, probably a photo or something.”
Commenting on corruption in the construction of public infrastructure such as roads, a social commentator, Patrick Ndlovu, said corruption impacted negatively on the country’s development.
“Poor quality, excessive time, cost overruns and inadequate maintenance impact negatively on economic growth and poverty alleviation,” Ndlovu said.
Work on the Bulawayo-Nkayi Road resumed in April after yet another long break due to lack of funds.
Road users have to contend with deep gullies on the road and the poor state of the road has been blamed for a high number of fatal accidents over the years.