Tender storm hits MSU

Midlands State University has come under the spotlight following repeated awarding of multi-million dollar tenders to a Chinese construction company owned by VP Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ally, Xi Cheng.

The Chinese national, who owns the Drawcard Construction Company, was a top member of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army when Mnangagwa went to China for military training during the liberation struggle.

Since then the two have had close relations and it is understood that Mnangagwa, who is also the founding patron of MSU, has been behind the awarding of several lucrative construction tenders dating back to 2008.

The company’s long list of multi-million dollar tenders at MSU includes construction of a double-storey administration complex and accommodation halls that house close to 1 000 students. The same firm was also given a tender to convert a complex formerly owned by telecoms parastatal Tel One, into a campus through construction of numerous facilities and refurbishment of old buildings.

It was also awarded a lucrative tender to do the same in Zvishavane where MSU converted properties at Mashaba-Shabanie mines into a campus to enrol about 5 000 students. Construction of road networks, terminuses and parking bays for MSU at its various campuses is also in the hands of the Chinese company. Recent reports indicate that the same company is poised to take over construction of a state-of-the-art $4.5 million library.

Investigations by this reporter revealed some questionable developments in the lives of the MSU’s top officials during the period of the tenders. These have raised suspicion that they may have personally benefited from the deals. Vice Chancellor Ngwabi Bhebhe has had a house built for him by the Chinese company at the university’s farm near Shurugwi.

The farm was once owned by the late Prime Minister Ian Smith and in his will he had indicated that part of it be given to a vocational training institution for purposes of skills development for needy citizens. The top five officials of the university who include Bhebhe, the two Pro Vice Chancellors Kadmiel Wekwete (Business Development) and Victor Muzvidziwa (Academic affairs and research) , Librarian Nyarai Chibanda and the Bursar responsible for finances, Mamelo Moyo, also recently acquired top of the range official vehicles in unclear circumstances shortly after they had been given others when their five-year contracts were renewed last year.

The MSU’s Director of Projects, Joseph Mapetere, who is responsible for construction, was recently promoted from grade 5 to Grade 3B, which is equivalent to that of executive officials and is above the level of professors. However he is understood to hold far less academic qualification. The bursar’s husband, Melusi, is now employed at MSU and has risen rapidly up the ranks of the institution.

A top source at one of the reputable construction firms in the city said it had been so difficult for other companies to be awarded tenders at MSU except Cheng’s firm, Drawcard.

“We have given up bidding for construction tenders at MSU. It’s like they now just give everything to their Chinese company, whether small or big projects. It is something that we are very worried about,” said the source.

Another construction industry source said MSU should be investigated for violating good corporate governance systems.

An inside source from MSU said: “The tenders being given to the Chinese one after another are draining a lot of money from the institution. We believe there is collusion by the top authorities to milk the university through them. MSU enrols new students every semester and should be very rich but there is a cash-crunch. Lately general employees have failed to get paid in time, yet the top guys are actually feasting daily.”

Others also accused Bhebhe of by-passing decision-making bodies like the university council and senate in the awarding of tenders in favour of the Cheng. But Canaan Dube, the chairman of the university council, defended the repeated awarding of tenders to Cheng’s company saying it gives the varsity a reprieve by spreading payment over an average of two years.

“We have an adjudication committee of tenders in the university council and it has approved all those projects. The reason why we have been going to the same guy is because we are still growing as a university and so we do not have adequate funds for all projects.

“Our concept is that we choose a company that would front-load projects like building in advance and let us pay later,” he said.

Dube denied that Mnangagwa had any influence in the awarding of the tenders and also refuted reports that the top officials have been pampered to ensure smooth flow of the money-spinning deals.

“No the VP cannot do that. He does not influence our operations. He is just our patron. The university officials have also been clean on this and our promotions for all workers have been based on merit,” he said.

Post published in: Economy

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