Tucked away in Shurugwi in the Midlands province, Tongogara rural district council [RDC] has dispelled the myth that corruption is an urban preserve.
Most corruption cases that grab the headlines evolve from the big cities and hardly the smaller towns, let alone rural areas.
The Tongogara local authority, which is administered under the Zimbabwe Rural District Councils Act, Chapter 29.13  and oversees 24 rural wards in Shurugwi district, faces numerous long-standing allegations of corruption and bad governance, but none of them have been dealt with.
Investigations by The Standard, working in collaboration with Information for Development Trust (IDT), a local non-profit organisation promoting good governance, revealed that the current CEO of the RDC, Brian Rufasha, is at the centre of the corruption storm.
Tongogara councillors — most of whom belong to the ruling Zanu PF — villagers and traditional leaders blame Rufasha for presiding over the rot at the local authority.
Leaked documents indicate that a storm is brewing over the manner in which Rufasha and his secretariat handled the servicing of one of the council’s tractors, a Massey Ferguson.
The tractor went for service at Duly’s Motors in Gweru, the Midlands capital, on August 30, 2016 and the council paid $2 848,76 as indicated on invoice number 10059906.
Sources, however, indicate that the charge was supposed to be much lower than that as it was a routine service which, investigations showed, costs some $250.
This suspicion was stoked by a mysterious visit to the Tongogara RDC offices by the Gweru-based Duly’s branch manager, Julius Kasirori, as sources claimed he went there to receive a kickback for inflating the service charge.
Kasirori admitted he actually visited the Tongogara RDC offices after the job on the Massey Ferguson tractor.
“I remember the issue of the tractor well and I also remember going to Tongogara RDC myself to explain the work we had done to some officials there,” he said, but denied receiving a kickback.
He could not explain, though, why he found it necessary to go and explain the job done on the tractor or whether he had been invited by anyone.
“It was major repair work. “There are some parts which we took from the shop and fixed on the tractor. That is why the charge was high,” Kasirori said.
He could not avail the inventory of the spare parts or their cost because, according to him, they lost all the data after migrating to a new accounting system.
Soon after what he claimed was a major service, the tractor’s old problems persisted and it had to go for a backyard service at nearby Chachacha business centre in Shurugwi.
Investigations revealed that, under the RDC administration and human resources budget for 2017, top officials awarded themselves steep salary increments even though the Finance ministry had ordered salary freezes for local authorities in the same year.
The adjustments were made without the approval of the RDC’s finance committee comprising selected councillors as specified by the law.
The CEO’s salary leapt from $1 900 in 2016 to $3 419 at the beginning of 2017 while that of the executive officer (administration) jumped from $1 803 the previous year to $2 725 last year.
The assistant executive officer (administration)’s salary increased from $1 386 to $1 535, while that of the assistant executive officer (human resources) went up from $1 349 to $1 535.
On the other hand, the top executives cut the salaries of low earning employees, while other junior staff’s remuneration remained static.
The records clerk’s and receptionist’s salary was cut from $990 in 2016 to $784 in 2017 while the driver, office orderly and general hands remained at $561.
Allowances included, the wage bill chewed up to $189 181 despite the fact that revenue collection by the RDC is less than a fifth of that amount.
Councillors who spoke to The Standard revealed that the Tongogara CEO and his senior management were at the centre of another scandal relating to road construction.
In 2014, JRG Goddard, a construction company, was chosen to repair three road strips measuring 50 metres each at the Chachacha business centre.
The service entailed gravelling and compacting the dirt strips and a full council that met on November 10, 2014 approved the job that was quoted at $6 000.
JRG Goddard would receive six used grader tyres from the council that had been obtained through an auction in lieu of the money.
Even though JRG Goddard received the tyres, a payment voucher obtained during investigations shows that the council went on to draw $2 352 purportedly to pay the company.
The payment voucher number 28 which is on the Tongogara RDC letterhead, however, is blank at the bottom where the person who received the money must sign stating the amount and date of receipt.
Letina Nyoni, a senior Zanu PF councillor who is completing her fourth term at the Tongogara RDC, confirmed that allegations of corruption and maladministration had become a serious concern for residents.
“I am aware of those corruption issues and as councillors we are very worried,” she said.
On April 9 this year, the 24 Tongogara RDC councillors sent a signed petition laying out their concerns and pressing for an investigation to the Shurugwi district administrator, Langton Mupeta, who said he had in turn notified the provincial administrator, Abiot Maronge.
“All 24 councillors of the rural district council affix this document that states that pending proper guidance, we have agreed this day that due diligence must commence in the dismissal of the chief executive officer, Brian Rufasha, on allegations levelled against him,” reads the petition.
Rufasha maintained that he was clean and accused his enemies of being behind the corruption allegations.
He claimed they had made a cash payment to JRG Goddard for fuel to be used during the road maintenance job, but the full council minutes indicate that this was not provided for.
He also insisted that the council approved the payment for Duly’s repairs for the tractor.
Rufasha justified the 2017 salary adjustments on the basis that they had been provided for in the 2013 budget made by his predecessor, and maintained that the disgruntled Marira villagers were illegally settled.
The councillors, according to Nyoni, are dismayed that higher authorities are not taking the matter seriously and have failed to take action against Rufasha and his alleged accomplices.
Maronge acknowledged that the petition against the Tongogara RDC reached his office, but added that the matter was not serious enough for him to take action.
“I saw the petition and know about the corruption reports,” he said, “and we have not done anything regarding that issue because we have no reason to get concerned.
“We only come in when we realise that the issue has gone out of hand, but in this case we have not reached that level.”
Villagers from Marira, which falls under the local authority and is located close to Chachacha, are up in arms against the council, which they accuse of trying to illegally evict them.
The RDC has already written to some 80 households, ordering them off the land that the families have occupied since 1936, claiming they are illegally settled and must make way for council that intends to turn them into new residential and commercial stands.
The decision to evict the villagers is based on an enforcement order signed by Rufasha on July 29, 2015 seeking to demolish the homesteads and stop subdivisions and any other form of use of the land.
However, the constitution bars anyone from evicting occupants of a property without a court order and the RDC has none. Chiefs Mhangami, Banga and Ndanga, who rule surrounding areas, insisted that the villagers were legally settled on the land.
Chief Mhangami said his predecessors purchased the land when they moved from the Tugwi area at $2 or a pound, with the intention to further transfer them to Gokwe, which proved uninhabitable due to tsetse fly.
Targeted villagers have been paying levies to the RDC, as indicated by receipts availed during the investigation.