News in depth BY BRENNA MATENDERE
Corruption is allegedly spreading at Tongogara Rural District Council (RDC) amid accusations authorities are turning a blind eye to the cases.
A local anti-graft organisation has since dropped a petition at President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Special Anti-Corruption Unit (Sacu) with the aim of having the vice curtailed.
Last year The Standard, in conjunction with Information for Development Trust (IDT), published an exposé detailing how the rural council corruption was ripping into funds meant for improvement of lives of the poor villagers in the remote area.
The investigation unearthed an invoice (10059906) of the RDC’s Massey Ferguson manual tractor registration number 611968, which was controversially serviced at Duly’s Motors garage, corner 8th Street and Robert Mugabe Way, Gweru, on August 30 2016.
The invoice, which was duly paid to the garage was $2 848.76.
However, enquiries at the same garage made during the investigation revealed that the charge for a service for a tractor was $250 on average at the time.
Other corruption-related tendencies were also unearthed, but nothing has been done despite the whistle-blowing.
In a follow up investigation carried out in the past four months, it was discovered that fresh simmering cases have since emerged.
The Anti-Corruption Trust –Southern Africa (ACT-SA), has unearthed another case of alleged corruption in which the RDC led by CEO Brian Rufasha allegedly paid US$67 850.00 to an earthmoving equipment company, Pelgian Consultancy Services, on July 25 2018.
The money, paid through an internal funds transfer mode, was intended for the purchase of a tractor loader backhoe.
Despite the transaction having been done last winter, the equipment is yet to be delivered at the RDC premises, nine months down the line.
Obert Chinhamo, the ACT-SA director, in a letter to Sacu, said the tender procedures to pick the supplier were flouted and that the money could have been diverted to personal use.
“The informer has suspicion of not only wrongdoing in the tendering process, but the money may have been diverted for personal benefit,” he said.
“Councillors under the local authority are also totally unaware of any resolution through which the purchase was authorised.”
Tabani Mpofu, the Sacu director, promised to check the status of the Tongogara RDC case at the anti-graft section and give feedback.
However, he had not done so at the time of going to print. Follow-up messages of the reminders sent to him were not responded to.
Questions have also been raised over signatories to the bank account of the RDC, which do not involve the chairperson of the council, who is the leader of policymakers at the local authority.
Most transactions like the loader backhoe are seen through by signatures of Rufasha and the treasurer Sithembiso Ndiripo, who are both administration figures.
Tamiswa Njovana, the RDC council chairperson, said the rural authority is run like a personal entity by Rufasha.
“As councillors and myself as their leader, we are currently at loggerheads with the CEO over opaque transactions and misuse of council funds in cases where we are not even consulted,” he said.
“The tractor loader backhoe, which has not been delivered nine months after payment, is one of the issues we are not happy about, but there are several other cases of corruption at the RDC, which are recent.”
Njovana pointed at the issuing of a $268 122.50 tender to a company called Master Specialists for the construction of a road at Donga shopping centre as one of the hallmarks of corruption.
“That company seemed to be known better by the CEO himself,” he said.
“It turned out it was a briefcase company which did not even have equipment for the job.
“We paid the company, but it did not do the job and we were forced to later on terminate the contract after already having lost money.”
The council chairperson also fumed at the unilateral suspension of sale of residential and commercial stands imposed on the RDC by the CEO, saying it was ironic that while money was being lost in shaddy deals, efforts to raise more income had been stopped.
Njovana said it did not make sense that the CEO would stop the sales saying there was uncertainty on the currency rates when the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had officially announced 1 USD to RTGS 2.5 as the prevailing rate.
Council officials believed to be opposed to the alleged corrupt tendencies by the CEO have lately been fired from their jobs without resolutions from the councillors.
Munyaradzi Mubaiwa was the head of the environment department for Tongogara RDC and was fired by the CEO recently.
“The CEO just fired a whole head of a department without a resolution from councillors who are employers of administrative staff,” Njovana said.
“The hearing authority that was convened by the CEO did not have a single councillor in it.
“When the worker went to the labour court, a lawyer was picked by the CEO without our consent to defend the RDC on the labour blunder.
“In all that process, we do not know how much council forked out to pay the hearing committee officials and now a lawyer for the labour court.”
A management report for the year ended December 31 2017 obtained in the investigation indicates that the last audit done at the RDC opened a can of worms.
The auditors noted that they “could not verify completeness of revenue” from sources like mines unit tax, business licenses and development levy fees, which are paid by residents to Tongogara RDC.
The audit made the conclusion because there was no updated database for the various fees, raising fears of abuse of funds by the management.
The audit findings also discovered that the RDC’s payroll cost was $431 785,72, but the total of what was actually paid was $473 030,9, which is $41 244,47 more.
The audit could not verify the assets of the RDC because there were no asset codes to facilitate physical checking. The risk highlighted was misstatement of the assets.
The audit also discovered other leads to corruption such as incorrect recording of revenue where there was a difference of $9 350,09 between amounts per trial balance and those independently computed.
“During the audit, we noted that the council had a variety of stocks including, among others, the workshop spares and office consumable materials,” reads part of the audit report.
“However, we could not obtain sufficient and appropriate evidence that such stocks were counted and valuated for inclusion in council’s books of accounts. The risk is misappropriation of council assets.”
It also revealed that 25 receipt books with batch numbers 112001 to 122000 were in use, but were not recorded in the security items register, raising the risk that irregularities in the processing of cash transactions would not be detected.
While these cases are raging on, nothing has been done to address corruption issues raised earlier on and published in the media thereby giving the impression that the CEO has backing from the top echelons of power in government.
On April 6, 2018, all the RDC’s 24 councillors affixed their signatures to a petition directed to provincial adminstrator Abiot Maronge calling for the suspension of Rufasha and conducting of a forensic audit at the rural authority.
The petition was stamped to acknowledge receipt by the Shurugwi district administrator Langton Mupeta on April 9, 2018.
Maronge did not act upon it and told this publication he had no reason to be concerned because the CEO was doing his job above board.
ACT-SA’s Chinhamo expressed concern saying allegations of graft at the local authority had been ignored for a long time.
“As long as Zimbabwean authorities allow certain corrupt entities to operate with impunity, a corruption-free Zimbabwe will remain a pipe dream… it is not the first time that corruption reports at Tongogara RDC have been made,” he said.
In written responses, Rufasha flatly denied any wrongdoing.
He agreed that council paid for the tractor loader backhoe and said the delay in delivery was because the supplier was failing to get foreign from the RBZ to import it.
He added that tender procedures were followed in all cases claiming an internal procurement body at the RDC is responsible for all tenders and he could not influence picking of suppliers.
Rufasha defended the exclusion of the council chairperson on the list of bank signatories saying he together with other councillors were mere policymakers “who have no role in signing bank transactions”.
He described reports that he was corruptly benefiting from shaddy deals at council as malicious.
“We have a procurement management unit, which handles these issues and recommends to the CEO” Rufasha said.
“The decisions are not made by one person. (Also) the CEO does not fire someone, but (employees are) fired by the hearing authority.
“Councillors make policies (and) they don’t implement. As such, there is no need for a resolution on day-to-day issues such as staff management.
“It’s purely administrative.”
On the damning audit findings, the CEO absolved his council of any wrongdoing, saying the management had since given the auditors its response, which was contained in “the final report”.
He said this reporter got the document when it was still a draft and not the “final report”.