‘State Procurement Board plunges Zim into darkness’

Debra Matabvu
\nThe State Procurement Board is partly to blame for Zimbabwe’s electricity shortages as it is sitting on solar power station construction tenders, a senior Government official has said. In 2013, the Energy and Power Development Ministry mandated the SPB to award tenders for the construction of solar power stations in Gwanda, Munyati and Plumtree.

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These plants were projected to generate a cumulative 300 MW, with construction taking nine months to complete. Though the SPB identified three worthy contractors, it later halted the process following pricing disagreements.  The Energy and Power Development Ministry wanted solar energy to complement existing electricity plants on the back of already overstretched supplies.

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At present, supply is subdued as Kariba Hydro-Power Station is failing to draw sufficient water from the dedicated dam whose levels dropped sharply due to low rainfall last season. Hwange, Bulawayo and Harare thermal power stations are also not at their optimum. As such, the latest round of load shedding has been agonising as households and businesses are going for up to 24 hours without electricity.

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Secretary for Energy and Power Development, Mr Partson Mbiriri told The Sunday Mail that the situation would have been less dire had the SPB expedited its processes. Mr Mbiriri said, “Our situation would have been much better had we been able to authorise the solar projects much earlier. Tendering for the three solar projects to be installed at Munyati, Gwanda and Plumtree has been going on for two years now.

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“In my view, that would have been decided over a relatively short period. By now, we could have been having solar as a backup, feeding into the national grid.”  He added: “If we had had the 300MW or even at least 200MW, the impact would have been less severe. Yes, there was going to be impact, but not of this magnitude.

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“Procurement should not take this long, even for complex projects. Hopefully going forward, we will be more decisive when it comes to projects of this nature.” SPB Chair Mr Charles Kuwaza did not respond to questions e-mailed to him by The Sunday Mail. Tenders are generally supposed to be advertised through local newspapers, the Government Gazette, journals and diplomatic channels.

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On the closing date, bids are sent to the accounting officer (the permanent secretary of the relevant ministry) for initial evaluation. The Secretary should then submit his/her recommendations to the SPB within 15 days of initial evaluation, with the SPB determining the tender award within 10 working days.

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Immediately thereafter, the Board should inform the Secretary of the winning and unsuccessful bidders. In this case, three contractors were identified to build the power stations. However, the SPB wrote all of them off after one winning bidder — China Jiangxi Corporation — failed to maintain the original tender price.

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The Board also disagreed with the Zimbabwe Power Company on engaging two other bidders — Intratrek Zimbabwe and ZTE Corporation.
\nUniversity of Zimbabwe electrical engineering lecturer, Engineer Golden Kapungu said Zimbabwe should move fast to implement the solar power initiative. The country is one of the best solar radiation belts in the world, averaging 2,100 kilowatt hours per square meter and 3 000 hours (equivalent to 300 days) of sunshine per year.

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Eng Kapungu said, “We have an abundance of resources in the country that have not been fully utilised. Areas that are unsuitable for agriculture can be used for solar farming. “There are also rivers that do not dry up and can be used for mini-hydro projects. All these can be connected to the power grid. There is need for Government to look into this area and adequately invest in this sector. It is not something that is done overnight; it can be done and it can save the country so much revenue and provide the much-needed electricity.”

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In 2014, Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the SPB was awarding tenders to briefcase companies, thereby increasing the cost of doing business. Describing the tendering system as the “capital city of corruption”, he also said the Board had awarded lucrative tenders to middlemen.

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Government is transforming the SPB into a procurement standards and guidelines-setting authority. The reforms will decentralise procurement to procuring entities, which will adopt international best practices like e-procurement to enhance efficiency, transparency and accountability.