By Staff Reporter
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has approved a deal for the acquisition of a US$33 million air traffic control system whose tender was controversially awarded to a Chinese firm, NewZimbabwe.com can exclusively reveal.
Sources in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), as well as in the aviation sector, said Mnangagwa gave the deal an executive approval Thursday afternoon.
The processes to acquire the system, commonly known as the radar, started in 2016 and have been mired in administrative and corruption scandals ever since.
Mnangagwa’s decision follows reports that the OPC, in an odd move, instructed the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAZ) to avoid the normal formal tender procedures and invite-only Russian and Chinese companies to place bids.
Russia and China are considered as all-weather friends by Mnangagwa’s administration.
The tender is for the financing, supply, and installation of an airspace management system to facilitate air traffic movements into and out of local airports.
Currently, Zimbabwe is using an outmoded system that exposes flights to deadly accidents.
“The president gave his approval to the deal on Thursday. He signed it off in the afternoon and we now expect the rest of the necessary paperwork to be completed so that the system can be installed as soon as possible,” a source said.
Another source said: “Everyone is convinced that this is the right decision. The Chinese company has shown real commitment and capacity in terms of both finance and technical know-how, so one would think that nothing should stand in the way of things now.”
Efforts to get a comment from Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet George Charamba were fruitless as calls on his mobile phone went unanswered.
The tender was originally awarded to Spanish company Indra Sistemas (Indra) in 2016, but the deal was set aside after a competing Italian firm, Selex ES, won a Supreme Court case challenging the decision on the basis that the tender did not go through procedures specified by law.
Indra had also failed to satisfy security for the necessary requirements.
In October 2018, Indra was re-awarded the tender under controversial circumstances whereby CAAZ, in conjunction with Transport Ministry officials, lobbied for a waiver of formal tender procedures, only for it to be cancelled after the OPC, along with the Joint Operations Command (JOC) adjudged that it was too risky to place such a strategic system in the hands of a company hailing from a country which is a key member of the European Union bloc which imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2002 following the chaotic land reform programme and has maintained them ever since.
This was when it was decided that CAAZ should be asked to consider bids only from Chinese and Russian companies mainly because of fears of espionage.
Three bids were subsequently received from China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) of China, a Joint Venture of Beijing CSSCA Technology working with Nanjing Les Information Technology of China and JSC Azimut of Russia.
All three companies were deemed capable of meeting the requirements to supply.
The three companies were issued with the detailed equipment specifications on September 1, 2020.
The tendering process was closed on October 27, 2020, and CHEC emerged as the sole bidder since the other two lost the energy along the way and never returned.