MUTARE – Crocked senior council employees are operating syndicates that are siphoning millions of dollars from the cash-strapped council, in one of the most elaborate schemes to emerge from the municipality, which is struggling to provide basic services to its residents.
The Eastern News can exclusively report that there exists a well-choreographed corruption ring in council that is funnelling revenue through their private companies, which are supplying goods and services to the municipality at inflated prices, and getting first priority for payment.
Indications are that the local authority, which is not new to controversy, has suffered heavy financial losses, which could have contributed to its failure to pay salaries on time.
Council’s failure to pay its employees has largely been blamed on the $30 million-plus debtors’ book it is owed by defaulting ratepayers.
The municipality employs over 1 000 workers, who take up more than 75 percent of council revenue in wages and salaries.
Mutare Town Clerk Joshua Maligwa confirmed the development this week, saying council bled heavily due to the shady dealings.
“I can confirm (that). There was no way council could ever have been able to honour its obligations to its employees with such an intricate web of shady deals,” he said.
Maligwa, who signs for all the purchases, said he was now probing the suppliers’ list to see if any of his employees had a beneficial interest in the companies.
“I’ve since put measures in place to critically analyse orders and have a well-checked suppliers’ list,” he added.
It is unlikely that council would be able to crack the puzzle unless it pierces through the corporate veil of the companies involved.
Most corrupt officials hardly appear on the directors’ list of companies in which they have an interest. They normally hide their interests through fronts and convoluted ownership structures that cannot be pinned down to individuals, unless forensic auditors are brought in.
Investigations by the Eastern News found that most of the corrupt senior council employees operate small-to-medium sized companies through fronts.
Interestingly, these are hardly owed any money by the local authority, a fact confirmed by Maligwa.
“I can confirm that most of our debts are to our employees and big, well-established companies like Zesa . . . not to most of the smaller companies that we work with.”
Sources say all companies that had been providing services to council are now under probe after some of them were identified as having links to senior council employees.
An invoice seen by this paper of four rebounded brake shoes, which cost just $100 in some of the shops in the eastern border city had actually been inflated to $320 by one of the companies currently being investigated by council.
To hide their shenanigans, the council employees would rotate companies they buy from among their pool of companies.
Occasionally, they would also source quotations from the established companies so that they could be viewed as impartial.
More often than not, the quotations sourced from the big companies would not be considered for being expensive, thus justifying sourcing from their smaller companies which supply inferior products.
Council has lost millions of dollars from the murky deals and a thorough forensic audit may be required to establish the extent of the prejudice.
Some of the smaller companies offer services and products in excess of $5 000 weekly, which is paid with minimal delay.
This trend has placed council’s procurement and accounts departments under scrutiny.
Maligwa could not be drawn into disclosing more details, saying the issue was still under investigation.
“We would not want to prejudice the investigations by having all the details discussed in the media,” he said.
He, however, revealed that he had been going through dossiers of audit reports, which he instituted, to fully understand every department in the council.
“I’ve been in this job for three months and I’m still trying to fully appreciate what has been happening,” Maligwa said.
Council has been up in arms with government over mismanagement of the city’s affairs.
Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere has been on a warpath with councils that are failing to deliver basic services to their residents and yet their officials are living in the lap of luxury.
The City of Mutare is located right on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Mutare is Zimbabwe’s closest city to the sea, making it the most strategic location for transport costs sensitive import and export oriented enterprises.
For this reason in particular, Mutare has been considered as Zimbabwe’s gateway to the Indian Ocean.
Mutare is the capital of Manicaland Province and covers an area of approximately 16 700 hectares.
It is situated 263 kilometres east of Harare and 290 kilometres west of the Port of Beira, Mozambique.
Sex pests worry female tenants
RESIDENTS in this eastern border city are pointing fingers at immoral municipal police officers and meter readers who are demanding sexual favours from female tenants who fail to honour their dues in exchange of non-enforcement of by-laws.
The allegations first came to light during a recent informal sector governance workshop hosted in the city by Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ), a corruption watchdog.
Ironically, TIZ’s parent organisation, Transparency International ranked Zimbabwe the 12th most corrupt country in the world, and the 11th in Africa.
The moral decadence now pervades council employees, if recent reports are anything to go by.
Participants at the TIZ workshop revealed that female tenants residing in council-owned houses in Sakubva’s Maonde, Singles and Muchena suburbs were often being pressured to give in to sexual demands to avoid being evicted.
“Many of these women are failing to pay their rentals so when council officials come to demand payment or take drastic action against them, most of these women fail to pay and are then asked to pay a bribe of $5 or given in to sexual favours for them to be able to remain in their houses,” said one participant, who preferred anonymity.
The participant said in most cases, some women would give in to avoid embarrassment.
A former councillor in the suburb, Knowledge Nyamhoka, said the practice had been going on for years.
“This has been a problem, which has been brought about by the violation of council by-laws because due process is not being followed in pursuing rentals hence allowing these sexual predators to blackmail powerless women into giving in to their sick demands,” he said, arguing that council was no longer issuing written warnings and letters of demand.
Nyamhoka said council should also be amenable to the plight of residents who are finding the going tough in view of the worsening economic situation.
He said being too strict with the struggling tenants and residents in general was making them more vulnerable to corrupt council employees.
The city’s town clerk, Joshua Maligwa, confirmed the development, citing council police officers and meter readers as the possible culprits, who would seek such favours in exchange for non-enforcement of by-laws.
“I’ve heard about this and was keen on finding out from the department of housing. This is something I cannot rule out. Council police and meter readers are prone to do it,” he said.
“During my time with Rusape Town Council, our police would demand sexual favours from female vendors,” Maligwa added, before instructing acting housing director Catherine Nyamangodo to probe the allegations.
Nyamangodo also said she could not rule out the allegations, saying council police responsible for following up on defaulting tenants had over-stayed.
“We have recently changed them but not because of these allegations, but they had certainly over stayed as they had about three years on the same post,” she said.
Maligwa said residents must continue reporting such incidents to council so that it puts an end to the rot.
“ . . . we do not condone such behaviour and they are better off dealing with council directly,” he said.
Maligwa and Nyamangodo said tenants should approach council even if they do not have enough money, as paying bribes would not reduce their growing debts to council.
Weird plant threatens timber plantations
ZIMBABWE’s largest producers of timber are struggling to curb the spread of an invasive weed that is colonising and destroying their multi-million dollar plantations across the eastern highlands, over a decade after it first surfaced.
The Timber Producers Federation (TPF) — a representative organisation of the timber producers — said it is yet to concretely identify the aggressive weed, let alone devise ways to control it.
“We are still to establish the identity of the plant with certainty and the National Herbarium together with the Forestry Commission is working on that,” TPF chief executive Darlington Duwa said.
He said the fast-growing woody plant is currently spreading unhindered throughout the region’s exotic plantations.
Emerging after a tropical cyclone that hit Zimbabwe in 2000, the nameless plant is commonly identified by locals as either Cyclone or Mupesepese — Shona lingo for something occurring everywhere — highlighting how pervasive it has become.
The plant got a foothold due to poor management of the forests, on the back of companies facing hardships due to depressed economy.
Reproducing using seeds, the plant forms thick tightly-packed bushes, which make it impossible to access colonised areas.
Duwa, in an interview last year, said major timber producers, among them Border Timbers, Allied Timbers and Wattle Company, had unsuccessfully tried to clear the weed.
“We tried weeding manually and even through use of chemicals but the plant is so persistent,” he said.
“We have sent samples of the plant the National Herbarium through Forestry Commission to have it identified so that we can be able to improve our interventions . . . its, however, rumoured to have come from neighbouring countries,” Duwa said back then.
The TPF boss said apart from the plant being hazard for any plantation fires, as it is reportedly highly flammable, it was also choking their tree plantations and draining nutrients, thereby stunting their growth.
“Apart from being fuel in case of fire outbreaks, the plant is also suppressing our crops,” Duwa said.
Sakubva teacher vanishes with $2k exam fees
A SAKUBVA teacher who stole $2 000 of students’ ordinary level exam fees has been slapped with a 14 month jail term.
Richard Gurudza, 31, of Sakubva and is employed by People’s Choice Academy was convicted after a full trial by magistrate Lazarus Murendo.
He was being charged with theft of trust property as defined in Section 113 (2) (d) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23.
Five months were, however, suspended for five years on condition of good behaviour with a further two months suspended on condition he restitutes the academy before September 11, 2017.
The remaining seven were then commuted to 350 hours of community service.
Prosecuting, Cuthbert Bhosha informed the court how on the date unknown but between March and April 2017 and at People’s Choice Academy, Gurudza received cash amounting to $1 777 from students for their Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) Ordinary Level examination fees.
He received a further $56 on May 12 from Yvonne Chakanyuka and he converted the whole amount to his personal use.
The matters only came to light when one parent came to the school to check if his student had paid the exam fees.
The school head, Cosmas Nyatowa, then checked financial records for the money and discovered the money was missing.
A police report was made, leading the arrest of Gurudza who was denying the charges.
Nothing was recovered from the $1 883 stolen.
Makoni villagers wallow in poverty
RUSAPE — Villagers in Makoni rural community are wallowing in poverty, with some households surviving on way less than $1 a day, an international aid organisation has revealed.
World Vision (WV), which has been supporting the desperate community with food aid, said most families were perpetually dependent on handouts, with little or no hope at all.
“A baseline survey we conducted showed that the average monthly income per household currently stands at $26.
“Most households depend on donor handouts — this all points to abject poverty,” WV northern region manager Amon Matsongoni said.
“We are trying to increase average income to around $100, which we hope to achieve through various interventions,” he said.
The organisation is now setting up projects and learning centres for the community.
The target is to replicate start-ups such as the Handusi Piggery Project in Chemarima, under Chief Masvosva.
The piggery project was launched last September with only 11 pigs — 10 sows and one boar, but by December, it had 81 piglets.
“This project is so far exceeding all our expectations and if replicated at household level, it can get this community out of poverty in record time,” Richard Machiridza, the project’s chairperson said.
Matsongoni said “through these community projects, whose membership may be limited to a few individuals, who could be 30 or less, they are mainly creating community learning centres or laboratories.
“It is the learning that will take place there that we are mostly interested in”.
In Zvapungu, under Chief Chiduku, WV is supporting a cattle fattening project in the hope of increasing the district’s average head from the current two per household.
“Profit margins in cattle fattening are very high, between 70 and 100 percent. This can be a very lucrative business if properly handled,” Matsongoni said.
Through such projects, WV is facilitating skills transfer.
“We are building in its sustainability by giving locals the requisite skills to run the project.
“We are just facilitating their skills acquisition and engagement with the market,” Andrew Shamu, the organisation’s advocacy and communications manager said during a tour of the project.
He said they have over 31 such projects running across the country.
“We are working with communities that are disadvantaged by various issues like poor rainfalls, geographical locations that may hinder them from fully realising their potential.
“We are just development partners. We are focused on food security and livelihoods, economic development, water and sanitation, child protection and education,” Shamu said.
Mutambara slams ‘dull’ student activists
FORMER deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara, has said he is not impressed by student activists who score poor marks.
Launching his book — In Search of the Elusive Zimbabwean Dream: An Autobiography of Thought Leadership (Volume One) — co-published by Southern African Political Economic Series Trust
in Mutare last Saturday, the former radical student activist said “dull” students must stay out of activism.
“We don’t want young people who are radical but come last in class . . . make noise and excel in your studies. If you are not good with your academics, stay out of activism,” Mutambara said.
The garrulous robotics professor, largely credited for pioneering student activism, also described academic excellence without social responsibility as “hollow”.
“A combination of academic excellence and social responsibility is what our young people should also have. Don’t be nerd. In life you will be a problem,” he said.
Mutambara, whose father died during his infancy before any of his three siblings was in school, also spoke highly of the extended family, as an institution that saved his family.
“The extended family is our own institution that we should continue to preserve. Without it, we would have been doomed,” he said.
“My message in this book is also that do not worry if you are poor, if you are downtrodden, the sky is the limit,” Mutambara said.
He also challenged locals to document their family history and not let foreigners to be authorities of locals’ history.
“Let us write our own history. We have to craft our own history so that we become the authorities on the history of Africa. I am trying to walk the talk. We must be masters of our own narratives,” he said.
He said it was embarrassing that Zimbabweans had a very limited written history about their culture and ways.
“If you go to China, they will tell you 5 000 years ago we did the following. We cannot even say 60 years ago we did this. Shame on us Africans!”