Tourism Minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu has been brought before the courts on allegations of failing to pay a debt of $30 million to House of Vengesayi (Pvt) Ltd, a Harare-based architectural firm. The firm claims that it provided complex architectural services to the minister’s ministry in 2013, but has yet to receive payment. The case has been simmering in the courts since 2016, but it seems that the heat has been turned up in recent weeks, as the company has revived the lawsuit. High Court judge Rodgers Manyangadze has ordered that the firm provide evidence of the debt owed by the ministry.

Minister Ndlovu initially tried to deflect the lawsuit by arguing that there was no application before the court, citing sections of the High Court rules that he believed rendered the application invalid. However, Advocate Tawanda Zhuwarara, who was representing the firm, argued that the minister’s defense was “fatally defective” and should be dismissed, stating that it was nothing more than a flimsy excuse.

In response to these submissions, Judge Manyangadze has ruled that the architectural firm should be heard, as the ministry cannot simply evade its obligations. The judge stated that “the claims in casu relate to the drawing up of complex architectural designs and their costing. The costing runs into millions of United States dollars. There is certainly need for evidence to substantiate the claims.”

The architectural firm claims that it was hired by the Tourism ministry in 2011 to provide designs for massive multipurpose tourist facilities to be used during the United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference in Victoria Falls. The designs included a multi-purpose warehouse, presidential villas, bed and breakfast apartments, a Carnivore Restaurant and nightclub, a 120,000 square-metre shopping mall, and a 350-bed three-star hotel. The firm charged $30 286 747.86 for their services, but the ministry allegedly refused to pay the amount owed, leading the firm to take legal action.

As the case proceeds, it remains to be seen whether Minister Ndlovu and his ministry will be compelled to pay the debt or if he’ll be able to wriggle out of this sticky situation It is a situation that raises questions about the transparency and accountability of public officials, and the recourse available to private businesses in such situations.