The U.S.$202 million Gwanda scam successfully masterminded by flamboyant businessman Sir Wicknell Chivayo

Just some 10 kilometres before Gwanda was a police roadblock (quite a realistic expectation on the country’s highways these days) and to us it was a somewhat good omen – what a better source of information than a policeman?

After the usual formalities of the stoppage, we enquired from the attending policeman how we could get to the site of the Gwanda Solar Project.

Our initial fears were allayed, when the officer started giving us directions, it gave us an assurance that, after all, the project was real. We had another fear, though.

Gwanda is a relatively small settlement and directions, if properly given and properly received, can be very handy. In less than 15 minutes from the roadblock where we had enquired from the policeman, we found ourselves in Spitzkop suburb, a combination of high and medium-density houses.

Further enquiries took us to the exact location of the project, a mega project tendered to the tune of $202 million in October 2015. Our second fear was that of access.

Last year we had been denied access to witness the expansion work on the Kariba South Hydro project, bankrolled to the tune of $294 million, ostensibly “because we had not been cleared by Harare”.

Thus we were sitting on the edge, literally. What if we were denied access again, after driving all the way from Harare.

But when one of Spitzkop’s residents whom we met at the suburb’s shopping centre offered to take us around and show us the work that has been touted as the $202 million facelift of Gwanda, we instinctively knew it was a free-for-all scenario.

“This is where the earth-moving equipment was stationed,” our newly recruited tour guide was soon proffering, pointing to a sun-parched piece of open land.

“They had their bulldozers and tippers parked there. That is where the employees also stayed, with their temporary structures. But they all left, together with the equipment last December.”

A drive further upfield, took us to the clearing, the result of three months’ work.

“The work started around October and by December, they had all left,” our guide further informed us.

“They opened three throughways, two running in the same direction and one across. We never got to know what, that is if, they encountered any challenges.

“All the employees were not from Gwanda, so we never got to know why they left.”

Spending an hour or two in Gwanda, one would get to appreciate why it was chosen as a site for the construction of the solar project. The mean annual temperature hovers around 25 degrees Celsius, lying in a largely arid area.

Typically, this particular Sunday was hot, temperatures that would make any solar project “smile”.

But with such an abundant supply of sunshine, why has it taken this long for the solar project to get off the ground? Comparatively, SunPower took about 12 months to complete a project of a similar nature in Nevada, the United States, when it constructed the 100MW Boulder Solar project, creating about 200 construction jobs, and when it was completed, started supplying power to 15 000 households.

When the Zimbabwe Power Corporation announced in October 2015, that is 14 months ago, that Intratek Zimbabwe had won the tender to build the $202 million 100MW Gwanda Solar Project, there was a lot of discontent and murmur on the market, especially that Intratek was fronted by controversial businessman, Wicknell Chivayo.

Questions were also raised as to the capacity, suitability and experience of Intratek Zimbabwe in handling projects of such a nature.

However, these fears were allayed when Intratek Zimbabwe in turn announced that Chint Electric of China was going to be its engineering, procurement and construction partner.

Eyebrows were raised – and a furore followed – in May last year when ZPC advanced a $5 million payment to Intratek for pre-commencement works, without a bank guarantee. The money was meant to cover feasibility studies, a topographical survey, the sinking of boreholes, the clearance of the site, a geo-technical survey, fencing of the site, wayleaves as well as the construction of administrative structures.

Of the three months that Intratek Zimbabwe workers reportedly spent on site, they only managed to clear three throughways, the biggest measuring about 30 metres in width, and about 500 metres long.
When reached for comment, Chivayo said they had completed 70 percent of the pre-commencement works, which only makes up 3 percent of the total work on the project (See question and answer on this page).

Work that has been on the ground in Gwanda does not suggest 70 percent, as the area has not been fenced, nor has any boreholes been drilled.

Chivayo also makes reference to the wet spell as part of the reasons why the pre-commencement works have been hampered, but Gwanda residents said the rains have not been so heavy as to warrant any stoppage to construction work.

Questions to the Zimbabwe Power Corporation, the owners of the project, had not been answered by the time of going to print.

Fullard Gwasira, the spokesperson for Zesa Holdings, the holding company for ZPC, though acknowledging having received the questions, had not responded to them by the time of going to print.

By Garikai Mazara

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Source: Nehanda Radio

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