Officials in the Bulawayo city council and the ministry of local government connived with conmen to defraud the municipality of $300 000 in a botched ambulance purchase deal, Now Daily can exclusively reveal.
Investigations by this newspaper showed that named officials within the council and government set up bogus companies with the aid of outsiders to funnel money into bank accounts rapidly set up by the fraudsters.
The ‘directors’ of the shell companies through which payments were made, Access Medical Corporation and Tracker Engineering Services have fled the country, according to a government source and efforts by debt collectors to track them failed.
Bulawayo City Council records show that the money was paid in advance in December 2013 for the purchase of ambulances and trackers. Ratepayers have questioned why they paid the amount before the delivery of the vehicles and tracking systems. Ironically, the purchase of vehicle tracking systems was aimed at stemming corruption in the transport department.
Deputy minister of local government Christopher Chingosho confirmed the theft.
The Bulawayo council tendered for the supply, installation and the commissioning of a vehicle tracking and a fleet management system in 2010. The tender was awarded to Tracker Engineering Private (Ltd), a registered company with a Harare address.
The contract price was US$501 500. Council paid a deposit of US$100 000 and the balance was to be paid within 36 months.
“The deposit was paid in the sum of US$100 000 and Tracker then started requesting for extension and relaxation of certain clauses in the contract,” Chingosho said. “Council acceded to some of the requests but turned down some of them. The company then disappeared and its e-mails were bouncing back. Their telephone numbers were no longer reachable. We took the matter to court and have since obtained a judgment which is ready to be implemented as soon as we locate them. Council tried to use the services of a tracking agent, but we reached a dead end. We will continue to search so that the US$100 000 deposit which was paid could be recovered. The purchase price was not paid in full. Council awarded the contract to Tracker because they had favourable conditions and a flexible payment plan. They had a good backup system and had promised to work with the council until the system was up and running.”
The Bulawayo council also tendered for the supply and delivery of four ambulances in 2010. The tender was awarded to Access Medical Corporation. The contract price for the ambulances was US$341 844. The terms of the tender were that council was to pay 60% deposit and the rest over 12 months. The 60% deposit of US$203 106.40 was paid. The unit price of each ambulance was US$85 461 and the deposit paid was sufficient to pay for two ambulances, according to municipal documents seen by Now Daily.
“After paying the deposit the customer kept promising that the ambulances had been shipped, even requesting that council process the duty free certificate,” Chingosho said. “There were several correspondences between the supplier and council and they just vanished after realising that legal action was now being taken against them. Meanwhile, we had handed over the matter to our lawyers after realising that the supplier was not cooperating.”
Efforts to serve the bogus ‘Access Medical Corporation’ with summons failed as the council could not locate them.
“We will continue searching and using the services of private investigators to trace them,” Chingosho said.
Official sources said tender procedures were not followed and due diligence was not done.
“These companies had no client list that we could refer to,” said a council official. “We were just told to grant them the contracts and that was done because they were from Harare and some people at the ministry said they were reputable. This has happened many times before, the ministry just imposing suppliers on us.”
The government however denies that underhand deals were involved.
“All the scrutiny was taken and according to the consideration at that time, that tenderer appeared to be the best amongst others. All the tender procedure considerations were taken but it is unfortunate that this tenderer did not fulfill what we thought was required. I think all the necessary procedures were taken into consideration,” Chingosho said.
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