Chinese company handpicked for Vic Falls airport

The contract to build the new $150 million Victoria Falls International Airport (VFIA) was given to China Jiangsu International without going to tender.

Ministry of Transport sources privy to the VFIA project told The Zimbabwean that the directive to offer Jiangsu the contract came from the “top”.

“Even the ministry (of Transport) did not participate in choosing the contractor. It was a high priority directive that came from the highest offices. The excuse that was given is that the project was a sensitive one that needed to be implemented with speed,” said one of the sources.

Another contact said the expansion of the airport, located 18km outside the resort town, was meant to cater for visitors to the August 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation summit. But it will only be completed in 2015. He said the president had ultimate authority on major national tenders.

This revelation comes amid fresh reports that President Robert Mugabe’s government is seeking to exempt major Chinese investors from tender processes in return for financial assistance to fund key projects. Mugabe recently spent a week in China where he is reported to have signed nine major deals.

The Zanu (PF) government, which adopted a Look East policy that sought support from China and other Asian governments following isolation by the west because of human rights abuses, has in the past mortgaged its minerals in return for Chinese aid.

The VFIA project includes the construction of a 4 km runway, a control tower, a new terminal building and inside road network, car parks as well as the rehabilitation of the present runway. It will be able to handle about 17 medium size aircrafs and three Boeing 747 planes at any given time, and some 1.2 million passengers annually.

Vince Musewe, an independent economist, said awarding contracts to companies without going to tender encouraged corruption through the manipulation of quotations, shoddy workmanship and other ill practices. “There is also a real danger that the Chinese are overpricing these contracts. This puts us at a disadvantage because the projects could be implemented at a cheaper cost and, at the end of the day, it is the taxpayer who bears the burden of paying for these deals,” he added.

Parliament ratified the project loan agreement between the government and the Export Export-Import Bank of China for the expansion of the airport. Efforts to get comments from the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) and the former Transport Minister, Nicholas Goche during whose tenure the contract was awarded, were fruitless.

– Staff Reporter

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