The only scandal that the government was willing to own was the fact that the Sata Toll Plaza cost a staggering US$4.3 million, and they prepared deceptive argument points to feed the National Assembly when the people’s representatives demanded answers. Honourable Ronald Chitotela, who was in charge of the ministry then, never disclosed that another toll plaza being constructed at Kafulafuta, half the width of the Michael Sata Toll Plaza, also cost US$4.2 million.
We have come to learn that as a matter of fact, these two toll plazas actually cost close to US$10 million each, because the initial contractors who had been awarded the tenders were paid millions of kwacha in advance before the contracts were terminated. We have further learnt that one of the initially contracted companies did about 35 per cent of the works before AVIC took over while the other did absolutely nothing on site, yet the Chinese company was awarded the two tenders at almost the same price.
On the Kafulafuta Toll Plaza, for example, there is evidence to show that major works, including earthworks, control building and main water supply structures, had already been done. Ordinarily, if market prices were used, finishing the remaining works at Kafulafuta should have cost somewhere around half the price that government spent on AVIC International. This was not done. Why?
This is a very serious scandal that Zambians must take keen interest in. Insiders who understand the market value of construction materials are telling us that the figures in the Bills of Quantity for the toll plazas don’t make sense, but are afraid to report this information to the investigative wings, fearing their bosses who have personal interests in this tender.
“To think that RDA accepted this very bad bid from AVIC is beyond imagination,” explains an inside engineering expert, “and the following are some of the specific flaws in that contract.”
1. RDA has a planning and design division headed by a director, why did we pay AVIC K1.3 million to do such a simple design for finishing works for Kafulafuta? Please note that the previous contractor had already set out the platform and had done a lot of works. So which design is this costing K1.3 million in the AVIC contract? Why didn’t RDA prepare the designs, drawings, specifications and bills of quantities and then ask AVIC to give a quotation?
2. When you add the total design fees for the four toll plazas in the contract (Mwanawasa, Choma, Garnerton and Kafulafuta), a total of K5 million has been spent on design fees for these simple structures. This is a rip-off. Additionally, there was already a design which Rankin had issued. Why was this design discarded? How much was spent on the Rankin design?
3. Quantities of materials have been exaggerated. Even works which were completed by the previous contractor are in the AVIC contract. The previous contractor completed earthworks and yet there are items for clearing and grubbing, cut and fill. Even the sub-base, base, and stabilized base is included when these works were completed by the previous contractor. Both the quantities and rates used for these works are insane. Quantities for steel at 169 tons and concrete volume of 2,200m3 are highly over stated. It will be interesting to see the reinforcement design for this steel.
4. The material description is so vague that you cannot do any meaningful evaluation for the AVIC bid. For example, there is 25KVA solar backup power source costing K1.5m with absolutely no specification. This means that AVIC can supply this solar back up of any type, any make, etc. Additionally, the surveillance system is costing K2m with absolutely no specifications at all and therefore anything can be supplied. How did RDA evaluate these very expensive items costing a whopping K3.5m?
5. There were absolutely no quality control measures at this site. AVIC was the designer, issued designs and drawings and there was nearly no supervision from RDA.
PRICING OF WORKS
Pricing is where the next scandal is. The following are the specifics.
1. Crush barrier concrete (Grade 30) is priced at K5,100/m3 when the market rate is K1,400/m3. This concrete price is 3 times more than the market price.
2. Pavement concrete (grade 35) is priced at US$400/m3 (approximately K5,500/m3) when market prices are K1,400/m3. For the concrete pavement exaggerated quantity of 2,200m3, there is a rip off of K8 million on this item alone.
3. Toll booths have been priced at a total price of K600,000 when you can get them at a total of K200,000. Remember that National Road Fund Agency has been buying these same toll booths for other sites and we know the prices of these items, so to accept this price from AVIC was simply unbelievable.
4. Signal lights and the surveillance system with no description at all has been priced at over K2 million. There are simply no specifications at all, so how did RDA evaluate the price and quality?
5. Cut (earthworks) are priced at about K360/m3 when the market rate is only K80/m3. This is 4 times more. Equally, fill material is priced at USD30/m3 or K400/m3 when the market rate is K80/m3 which is 5 times more. Both cut and fill quantities are also grossly over stated. Steel is priced at K24,000/ton when the market prices are K14,000/ton. Worse, removal of asphalt over an area of 1690m2 is costing a whopping K400,000.
6. We have diversion repair works for over 7 months for a 500m road costing K500, 000. Have you ever seen any major works being done on that rocky diversion at Kafulafuta other than watering?
7. There is a contingency of over K2 million. What was it used for? On average, all works and materials have been priced at least 3 times (more than) the market prices.
A quick look at the Mwanawasa (Sata Toll Plaza), Choma and Garneton projects reveals the same trend as that at Kafulafuta. This means that for the four plazas, RDA lost more than US$10m or about K130m. This scandal must not be swept under the carpet; evidence is slowly coming out. RDA must give a clear explanation to these questions. Taxpayers would like to know why they should lose close to US$10 million for a toll facility in a poor country like Zambia.
We are not done yet!