Chombo fleece council of millions over Harare airport road

As investigators into the $80-million airport road construction saga rage on, Harare City councillors have uncovered evidence that the controversial Estonian company Augur Investments is being used as a conduit to fleece council of millions of dollars and vast tracts of prime land.

The scam, according to an investigation by the Harare City Council, again implicates the Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development, Ignatius Chombo, senior council employees and a caretaker commission which ran council affairs in 2008.

Copies of the report compiled after an investigation by councillors have been sent to the Prime Minister’s office and parliament for investigation. Council is also expected to make a report available to the Anti-corruption Commission and police.

Speculation of corruption was fuelled when, during investigations, it emerged that a company owned by Chombo, Harvest Net Investments, shares the same address as Augur.

According to correspondence intercepted by councillors, Chombo’s Harvest Net and Augur are both located at 62 Quorn Avenue, Mt Pleasant, Harare.

But senior officials deny any wrongdoing. It has also turned out that Augur has no capacity to construct the airport road, and has since subcontracted a South African company, Power Construction SA.

After Augur was awarded the tender two years ago, it formed a joint- venture company with the city council, Sunshine Developments, in which council has a 30% stake while Augur holds 70%.

In the deal with council, Augur will get over 1000 hectares of land in exchange for the construction of the road. Augur says it wants to use the land to construct shopping malls and golf courses, among other projects.

All the deals were signed by a caretaker council chaired by Michael Mahachi, with Tendai Mahachi as the town clerk. The two, who are said to be related, signed all the million-dollar deals, and at times, the report says, Chombo witnessed the signing.

Part of the report by councillors says: "In a recorded interview, Dr T Mahachi indicated that Augur was approached by the council during the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo.

"This meeting culminated in the council entering into an agreement with Augur on the formation of Sunshine and, thereafter, the awarding of the airport road contract.

"It is pertinent to note that the address which is cited as Augur’s in the shareholders’ agreement is the same address that Minister Chombo’s Harvest Net also cites in its articles of association as its own.

"The caretaker council was formally appointed in a letter written by Dr Chombo, on 21 May 2008. The minister therefore was endorsing an agreement being signed by his appointee (MMahachi) with Augur Investments, a company that shares and operates from the same address as his company, Harvest Net."

"The picture has emerged that the dealings and decisions made by the caretaker council are a well-orchestrated plan to plunder government and council resources on a grand scale.

"There is substantial circumstantial evidence that points to the fact that Minister Chombo’s irregular appointment of a caretaker council in 2008 was calculated to derive some personal benefit for some people," reads part the report.

But the town clerk Tendai Mahachi says everything was done above board. "It is important to note that these agreements have council resolutions and were entered into in a transparent manner."

Chombo could not be reached for comment.