BY NUNURAI JENA
Makonde district in Mashonaland West recorded the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in the province at the peak of the third wave of the pandemic.
The reason was largely the absence of a functional Covid-19 isolation centre in the district.
The available facility at Mhangura Christian Hospital is dysfunctional and was meant to be renovated through a US$20 000 donation from Unicef.
The renovation was not completed because of bungling by government departments.
Mhangura, which is part of Makonde, is one of the few areas that had to be put under localised Covid-19 lockdown because of high infection and mortality rates at the height of the coronavirus cases surge between June and July this year.
Covid-19 patients were being ferried to Chinhoyi for isolation using ambulances commandeered from as far as Chinhoyi since there is no ambulance service at Mhangura Christian Hospital.
After a needs assessment conducted last year, Unicef availed US$20 000 for the setting up of an isolation centre at Mhangura Christian Hospital to alleviate effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in rural Makonde.
The money given to the Health and Child Care ministry was meant to be used by December 31, 2020 failure which it was to be returned to the donor as per policy.
The Health ministry in conjunction with the public works department in the Local Government ministry called for tenders to refurbish the isolation centre at the church-run Makonde Christian Hospital and only two companies, including Blaines World Construction showed interest.
According to Makonde district medical officer Paradzai Mudzengerere, they settled for Blaines after recommendations from the public works department — their technical partners in such work.
In December 2020, Mudzengerere said the works department requested them to pay Blaines even though they had not finished refurbishing the isolation centre.
Basing on a certificate of completion signed by the works department, the Health ministry paid US$20 000, the full amount for the job to Blaines.
Just about the same time the payment was done, Covid-19 infections started to rise significantly and patients needed to be isolated.
The isolation centre was, however, not complete and could not be used for the purpose.
That was despite the fact that work for the renovation had been paid for in full.
Another company that had been contracted to install an oxygen facility at the isolation centre finished its work on time.
The issue came to light after reports of patients dying on their way to Chinhoyi Hospital for isolation continued to come to the fore.
Nothing was done about this anomaly, giving weight to suspicion of possible corruption involving the government officials that were dealing with the tender.
Mudzengerere pointed fingers at the public works department officials, accusing them of generating a certificate of completion when they knew that the job had not been completed.
“Issues to do with construction and refurbishing are done by public works,” he said.
“Yes, the money was given to us to pay the contractor.
“We worked with them in terms of specifications of the isolation centre that we wanted, but monitoring and evaluating the job falls within the scope of the works department terms of reference.
“They have the final say on work done just as they have the responsibility to generate and issue that certificate of completion, which they did.”
But Mashonaland West provincial public works head Trymore Mutizwa hit back, saying some Health ministry officials approached them to issue a certificate of completion for an unfinished job because the deadline for the money to be used was December 31, 2020.
“Health ministry officials are trying to be economic with the truth,” he said.
“They approached us to issue a certificate of completion even though the work was not completed because they were in a dilemma of either to pay for the unfinished work in anticipation that the contractor would honour the contract and finish it, or risk sending the money back to the donor since the money was supposed to be exhausted by end of 2020.
“But surely a certificate of completion is only given to a finished job and that was a provincial arrangement.”
On why they were not following up on the contractor to finish the work, Mutizwa said the contract was between the Health ministry and the contractor.
“We can’t push the contractor (Blaines World Construction) because the contract is between them and the Ministry of Health,” Mutizwa said.
When contacted for comment on what really transpired, Blaines director Bigboy Mupande confirmed that they were still to finish the work on the isolation centre but was quick to say that most of the work was completed.
“Yes, we are not yet done on the floors which is very important because isolation centres require a special floor material, Epoxy,” Mupande said.
“We were affected by the first lockdown and the material price has skyrocketed since it is imported from South Africa.”
Mupande said because of the price discrepancy, he had requested an additional US$2 000 for the job.
“I wrote them a letter of variation of US$2 000 because what we quoted then has changed because of price increases” said Mupande.
Mudzengerere, however, said such demands were against the contents of the contract that stipulated that work be completed by December 31, 2020.
It is now 10 months after a full payment was done but Blaines have not yet fulfilled their contractual obligations.
Out of 491 Covid-19 deaths in Mashonaland West, 186 are from Makonde district which includes Mhangura.