Abel Zhakata Senior Reporter
MUTARE City Council has filed criminal abuse of office charges against its acting deputy finance director – Mr Lovemore Makande – who is the alleged kingpin of a syndicate of employees who siphoned millions of dollars from the municipality through shelf companies that supplied it with over-priced goods.
Among other charges, Mr Makande stands accused of corruptly failing to disclose his interest to his principal as he is a director of some of the companies that were supplying goods to the local authority.
Town Clerk, Mr Joshua Maligwa, said the local authority was prejudiced millions of dollars through the well-knit corruption ring that involved workers from the buyer’s section and those from the accounts expenditure department. “I cannot give you the details of the fraud charges we filed with the police as this will compromise investigations. We are afraid that some people might get alerted and disappear,” he said.
“Right now we are looking for Mr Makande, but he is nowhere to be found. His cellphone is not reachable. It is a sophisticated ring which starts from the buyer’s office right up to the expenditure department. These people formed their own companies that supplied council with goods at inflated prices.
“Their payments would be processed fast as they are the same people who would prepare the payment vouchers. They made sure that their invoices were paid first at the expense of other pressing council needs that had a bearing on service delivery,” he said.
Council filed the report at Mutare Police Station on Wednesday and the case has since been referred to the Criminal Investigations Department. Deputy Manicaland provincial police spokesperson, Assistant Inspector Luxon Chananda, confirmed the case.
“The report was filed on Wednesday. I cannot say much at this stage because the case is still in its infancy.” Mr Maligwa said soon after assuming office in April, he took time to analyse and investigate what was happening.
“These guys were making a killing, literally bleeding council dry. Some of the products had a 500 percent mark up. For example, a product that ordinarily sells at $500 on the market was being sold to council for $1 500.”
“Surprisingly, council was also buying pit and river sand at inflated prices of $180 per five cubic metres from the same culprits, yet the local authority is supposed to come up with its own extraction sites in line with statutes provided for by the Environmental Management Agency.
“On average, these shelf companies which I will not name for now were paid $10 000 per week and the bulk of them are owned by almost the same people. When we did our investigations we found out that most of these companies were formed last year and up to this date they were paid in excess of $177 000 each.
“How can council survive and be able to pay its workers when the collected revenue is being leaked that way?”
Mr Maligwa said council was also buying fuel at inflated rates such that it was cheaper for the local authority to queue its fleet at any service station in the city for re-fuelling rather than get bulk supplies at exorbitant rates. “Some of the fuel we are talking about was never supplied, but council paid for it. That is scandalous. These employees were using pseudo names when registering their companies in order to avoid detection, but we have uncovered their veil,” he said.
Mr Maligwa said the local authority would soon call up for a comprehensive forensic audit and unearth the corruption that put the municipality on its knees. “Can you imagine that at one time council forked out $3 500 to buy 2 000 black waste plastic bags that were corruptly sold for $1, 70 each, yet the same goes for 15 cents each in shops, which amounts to only $325. That is the type of corruption that was going on and it should stop,” he said.
“Those who benefitted from this looting must pay back and we will fish them out one by one,” he said. Efforts to contact Mr Makande were fruitless at the time of going to print as his cellphone was unreachable.