October 24, 2022

Ministry director cleared in cloud seeding scandal

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Blessing Masakadza

THE deputy director procurement in the Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Ministry who was accused of recommending a cloud seeding tender to a company with faulty planes has been acquitted.

Blessed Ishmael Murwira Majiga was facing allegations of criminal abuse of duty, allegations he denied when the trial opened before regional magistrate Vongai Muchuchuti-Guwuriro.

The State alleged that on September 15 2020, the ministry called for bidders for two aircraft, which were stationed in Harare and Bulawayo, for the national cloud-seeding operations this rainy season.

Bidders had to provide two aircraft with twin engines with full-propeller, air frame de-icing, cloud-seeding, flare dispenser, and two-way communication for the pilot and seeding officer.

The aircraft had to be suitable to fly through turbulent clouds and to be available throughout the cloud-seeding operation.

An evaluation team comprising Norman Duri, Linear Gopo, Matenda and Tamuka Zivurawa, was set up to evaluate the aircraft with Majiga as team leader.

JR Investments, Nineteen Twenty (Pvt) Ltd, Cypritaf (Pvt) Limited and Central Air Transport Services (Pvt) Limited, responded to the ministry’s call for bidders.

The State alleged that JR Investments submitted for the bid the two aircraft despite knowing that their planes were grounded and that one was registered for private use.

On November 4, the evaluation team inspected JR Investments’ Baron 58 registration Z-NAB, where it noted that it did not fit the required tender specifications. The same day the team inspected Nineteen Twenty’s aircraft and noted that it could not be modified for cloud-seeding.

They went to Cypritaf (Pvt) Limited, where two twin-engine aircraft with their documentation were produced. These had two flare dispenser units mounted and the cloud-seeding equipment was demonstrated in a ground test. The firing mechanisms and the flare dispenser units were also shown during evaluation.

On November 9, 2020, a further evaluation was held at JR Investments offices in Avondale where the firm only produced two cloud-seeding doors.

Majiga allegedly led his team to Marondera aerodrome to inspect another JR Investment’s plane and discovered that it was grounded and sitting on jacks and it was branded “JR Investments HAC”.

On that day, Majiga, Duri and Zivurawa allegedly used their own vehicles to travel to Marondera for evaluations instead of using Government vehicles.

While in Marondera, they allegedly inspected another plane which was undergoing maintenance.

It is after the evaluation that Majiga allegedly recommended JR Investments’ aircraft knowing fully that they were grounded and did not qualify to undertake the national cloud-seeding operations.

In refuting the charges, Majiga represented by Admire Rubaya said he was appointed as an ordinary member of the evaluation committee and the committee collectively made the decision to accept the bid of J.R. Investments and recommended to the accounting officer of the Ministry to award the tender.

He further argued that according to the information supplied to the committee by J.R. officials the aircraft in question was undergoing scheduled routine maintenance contrary to the alleged structural maintenance.

He further argued that the directors of Cypritaf Vet 999 were bitter after losing the bid and laid the allegations despite the Ministry clarifying the position to them and also the findings of S.P.O.C.

He went on to apply for discharge at the close of the State’s case which the court granted.

“If the State is allowed to proceed to the defence case and the accused chooses to exercise his right to silence, would there be a case for the State? The answer is “no”. The State has failed to establish a prima facie case. The essential elements of the offence of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer have not been established. Accordingly, the application is hereby granted,” the magistrate ruled.

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