news in depth:BY BRENNA MATENDERE
The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) has commenced a probe into a raft of allegations of corruption at the Gokwe Town Council (GTC) where former Local Government minister, Saviour Kasukuwere was allegedly implicated, it has been established.
Kasukuwere was removed from government in late 2017 during a military coup that replaced ex-president Robert Mugabe with Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The exiled Kasukuwere is reportedly plotting a political comeback through a yet-to-be announced political party, which he will lead in the next general elections in 2023.
The former Zanu PF commissar is now accused of aiding the rot at the troubled Gokwe council through acts of omission or commission after the government at the time paid a blind eye to the corruption.
John Makamure, the Zacc spokesperson and a commissioner, confirmed the probe to The Standard, which has been investigating the alleged corruption in collaboration with the Information for Development Trust.
The investigations have corroborated findings by the Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (Act-SA), which produced a report detailing claims of graft at GTC in September.
Obert Chinhamo, the Act-SA director, told The Standard that the Zacc chairperson, Loice Matanda-Moyo, had personally promised him that the commission would follow up on the allegations contained in his organisation’s report.
The Kwekwe-based anti-graft outfit shared its report with the commission in September.
Act-SA met Zacc officials based in Gweru, the Midlands capital, on November 22 and the commission has already engaged residents in Gokwe, a small town that is located in the same province, in its evidence-gathering process.
“We are investigating the corruption allegations levelled against officials in Gokwe regarding operations at the town council. If we get strong evidence that there is corruption at the council, arrests will, naturally, be made,” Makamure said.
The council is being investigated under Zacc case number G05/10/2019.
The current town secretary, Melania Mandeya, is likely to form the main focus of the Zacc probe as she is facing a raft of allegations of corruption.
There was an outcry among councillors, residents and civil society over her appointment, which they alleged was irregular.
This publication established that in 2013 an advert for the post was flighted publicly following the sacking of the then incumbent, Tapiwa Marongwe, who was also being accused of corruption, but Mandeya did not apply.
A named senior local government ministry official ordered GTC to re-advertise the post, apparently to enable her to apply.
Investigations revealed that a total of eight candidates attended the interviews and Mandeya came fourth. She was beaten by Loud Ramakpola (81%), Shingirayi Tigere (78,8 %) and Victor Kondo (63%).
Ramakpola got the job, but resigned out of frustration four months later as he had been denied a council vehicle, telephone allowance and other conditions specified in his contract.
On October 21, 2014, Mandeya, who sources say was not employed by GTC then, was given a letter of appointment to the job and her contract would be effective from December 1, the same year, without the knowledge or approval of the Local Government Board.
Mandeya holds a Bachelor’s degree in Guidance and Counselling from the Zimbabwe Open University and the qualification is considered unsuitable for the job.
A letter obtained by this paper indicates that councillors complained in writing to the then Local Government minister, Kasukuwere, over the irregularity, and her appointment was put on hold.
But she was reinstated on a full-time basis in January 2015 by the Local government ministry, again under unclear circumstances.
Despite the temporary freeze of her appointment, Mandeya still received her December salary and allowances.
She was paid US$2 597 through a transfer made on January 19, 2015 from the GTC’s CBZ Bank account into her ZB bank account 4558567128200.
The town secretary was also paid US$326 for diesel for December 2014 as indicated by voucher number RATV095.
Yet the council also paid the acting town secretary, Rosemary Chingwe, the sum of US$706 approved through voucher number 017 for the same month.
The money was wired into Chingwe’s ZB bank account number 4564398570200.
In May 2019, Mandeya allegedly gave a contract for catering services to a named local businesswoman, who could not be located for her response, without consulting councillors.
The businesswoman, sources said, was a front for the Gokwe district administrator Steward Gwatirinda. The value of the contract has been kept under wraps.
A July 1, 2019 letter leaked to this publication that was signed by the caterer shows that she instructed GTC to deduct $4 000 from the amount and direct it as part payment for a residential stand belonging to Gwatirinda, situated at Gokwe centre’s Kambasha area.
Gwatirinda admitted that he had received the payment, when contacted for a comment.
“Yes, someone paid for my stand at Gokwe Town Council, but that person owed me money. “However, it is a personal issue. I can’t discuss it in the media, how that person ended up owing me money,” he said.
The town secretary again gave a contract of US$12 000 to one Zaranyika to supply curtains for the Gokwe town house without going to tender.
Mandeya and Zaranyika are said to be relatives and were staying under the same roof.
In 2016, Mandeya received a Chevrolet vehicle, registration number AEF 2600, for US$58 000 despite the fact that one supplier was selling it for US$51 000 and no justification was given for preferring the costlier car.
Investigations showed that Mandeya owns two residential stands in the Kambasha low-density suburb against council policy and the Urban Councils Act. These are stands number 155 and 156.
Mandeya dismissed all the accusations against her as unfounded and malicious.
She, however, admitted that she came fourth in the interviews, but saw nothing wrong with her appointment.
“I didn’t employ myself,” she said.
She claimed council bought materials for curtaining of the town house and the US$12 000 figure was exaggerated. Mandeya denied being related to Zaranyika.
She also admitted owning two stands, but insisted there was nothing wrong with it.
Mandeya defended the purchase of the Chevrolet at an exorbitant price, saying they considered other things outside the price, but did not elaborate.
In 2011, the local authority paid a total of US$23 000 for the purchase of a Nissan NP300 from a Harare-based company that was meant for use by the finance director but, up to now, it has not been delivered.
The Act-SA report indicates that GTC has a secret CBZ nostro account that this paper later established is number 01721387410218 and was kept away from the councillors until recently.
It could not be immediately established who opened it and when, the signatories and the amount being held in the account.
Two cash receipt books disappeared at GTC early this year, but no report was made to the police nor did the council make efforts to warn the public.
The Act-SA report indicates that the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, which owns Chirisa Game Park in Gokwe, made a donation of US$8 000 to the town council, but does not specify when that happened and the purpose.
The report notes that there is no accountability to date on how the money was used despite demands to management for accountability from councillors.
Zimparks spokesperson, Tinashe Farawo, said he could not remember the donation.
Similarly, Act-SA alleges in its report that the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara) disbursed funds to the local authority for road surfacing last year and GTC contracted Godfrey Nuwana, who owns a road construction company to do the job, but the money was allegedly diverted while the contractor was paid in the form of three residential stands named as numbers 10760, 10759 and 10758.
This paper has also established that, in 2011, a well-wisher who is now based in the United States, Peter Lobel, initiated a campaign dubbed “Mudzimiwemoto” (The Fire Fighter) to capacitate local authorities in civil protection.
Lobel donated a Volvo fire tender, registration number AAE8004, to GTC in 2016, but council books of finance indicate that the vehicle was purchased at a value of US$22 000.
Gokwe town council’s financial records have not been audited for over five years and management has repeatedly ignored calls for a forensic audit.
GTC’s 63rd full council meeting resolved on May 23, 2013, well before Mandeya took over, to buy a Toyota D4D vehicle from Croco Motors at US$38 000, but management opted for a used one at US$18 000.
Records show that the car was bought from an individual, one David Michael Catchington, and because it was a non-runner, council ended up spending US$34 000 to repair it.
At the height of a push by councillors to fish out corrupt tendencies and illicit financial flows, Mandeya reportedly fired the internal council auditor, Tavaziva Mavhengere on three months’ notice.
A document with recommendations to the full council meeting by the audit committee chairperson councillor Salstino Mapfunde after Mandeya fired the internal auditor indicated that efforts by the policy makers to trace opaque financial transactions were killed by the dismissal of the employee, who had most of the information.
Part of it reads: “The town secretary ill-advised council and destroyed my audit committee indirectly by terminating the contract of the (internal) auditor on three months’ notice illegally and without even following the procedures.
“We now do not have an auditor and when we want to have an audit committee meeting we are given a mere clerk (sic). It is mockery to my committee. ”
The audit committee chairperson says that the firing of the internal auditor had undermined their efforts to get answers on suspected fraudulent transactions.
“The case of the Gokwe Town Council is a microcosm of a bigger catastrophe in other local authorities.
“On the other side, relevant authorities that have a constitutional mandate to investigate corruption often give a blind eye especially when the leadership of these local authorities is linked to certain high profile individuals,” said Chinhamo.
Local government ministry permanent secretary, George Magosvongwe, confirmed receiving reports of corruption at GTC and like Zacc, also confirmed investigations would be conducted.
“The ministry received reports of the alleged corruption activities at Gokwe Town Council,” he said.
“To this effect, an investigation will be carried out to establish the facts and the results will be availed in due course.”