GOVERNMENT has largely ignored the grand abuse of funds disbursed to procure goods to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and cushion vulnerable citizens whose livelihoods were adversely affected by the national lockdown in 2020 by sweeping under the carpet the damning findings of Auditor-General Mildred Chiri (pictured) and Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which recommended an investigation to bring the culprits to book.
The abuses were first highlighted on 3 August 2021 by Chiri in her report titled “Special Audit Report of the Auditor-General on the Covid-19 Pandemic Financial Management and Utilisation of Public Resources in the Country’s Provinces”.
Chiri unearthed serious irregularities in the handling of Covid-19 funds, citing rampant abuse and corruption in the disbursement of relief funds and other resources.
The detailed report, tabled in Parliament, showed that allowances meant for food insecure households, the disabled, the elderly and child-headed families were not received by the beneficiaries due to various reasons, including duplicate payments and disbursement of funds to people with fictitious names — meaning fraud.
Following the release of the report, Parliament instituted its own investigation and concluded that due to the seriousness of the abuse of public funds, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) should institute investigations within 180 days.
PAC conducted its enquiry by first analysing the Auditor-General’s report to familiarise itself with the issues raised.
The committee then had oral evidence sessions with officials from the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and Local Government and Public Works through two meetings held with each of the ministries.
On the database of beneficiaries used by NetOne to distribute funds, on behalf of the Social Welfare department, PAC in its findings said the distribution mechanism was in a shambles, leaving the process open to abuse.
PAC said it believed that the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare had databases for vulnerable people prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, given that one of its principal functions is that of assisting the less privileged in society through various social welfare assistance programmes.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police and Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission should institute investigations on the issue of duplicate beneficiaries with a view to prosecuting those guilty of any wrongdoing within 180 days of tabling this Report,” recommended PAC.
The timeline was set on 10 May 2022, when PAC tabled its report through legislator Memory Mbondiah. The 180 days or six-month timeframe elapsed in November 2022. Subsequent investigations by The NewsHawks also revealed that some undeserving people received the funds, at the expense of vulnerable persons.
A follow-up by The NewsHawks has revealed that the government has largely ignored the audit report by, among other shortcomings, not conducting a special investigation to look at issues raised by Chiri as directed by Parliament.
Most of the Covid-19 related abuse of funds cases which went to court but were not covered in Chiri’s audit as they were not part of her auditing scope, were dismissed in court, while many other cases went uninvestigated. Chiri this week said she was unable to give an assessment on government’s handling of her report since she had not made a follow up.
“My office has not yet made a follow-up audit due to other pressing issues and we also normally give our clients ample time to implement our recommendations,” she said.
“I am not able to comment now until we make our own assessments. We will summon Home Affairs minister: PACPAC chair Brian Dube did not respond to questions, but his deputy Edwin Mushoriwa said Chiri’s audit report and Parliament’s recommendations were ignored, showing that the government is not serious about fighting corruption.
He said when Parliament resumes sitting on 28 March, Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda will be implored to summon Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe to appear before the august House to explain why his ministry, which is charge of police, did not take action on the recommendation for an investigation into the abuse of Covid-19 public funds.
“The failure by the executive arm of government as well as its agents such as police and Zacc among others is a cause for concern. The PAC report gave timelines which were supposed to be followed by government,” Mushoriwa said.
“As PAC we will be moving for a point of privilege when Parliament next sits so that the Speaker directs the ministry to come before the House and explain the failure to action Parliament’s recommendations and directives.”
We are not to blame: Zacc
Zacc chairperson Loyce Matanda Moyo told The NewsHawks that her entity had investigated the abuse of Covid-19 funds which it received and submitted evidence to the courts, but was limited in its abilities as it does not have prosecutorial powers.
The most high-profile Covid-19 abuse-related case was that of former Health minister Obadiah Moyo over a dubious US$60 million tender awarded to the United Arab Emirates-registered company for the supply of Covid-19 materials at grossly inflated prices.
Prosecutors argued the contract was awarded without a competitive tender process. Moyo as minister was accused of influencing the awarding of the contract.
High Court Justice Pisirayi Kwenda in October 2021 however dismissed all charges levelled against Moyo after ruling the offences were defective.
The judge said the state did not elaborate how Moyo influenced the awarding of tenders. Moyo, through his lawyer Tawanda Zhuwarara, had argued that the awarding of the tender was not done by him but by the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz) – a state-run entity. The case has collapsed.
Another high-profile arrest was that of the director of epidemilogy and disease control in the ministry of Health and Child Care, Portia Manangazira, who was arrested for alleged criminal abuse of office after being accused of facilitating the recruitment and training of 28 family members as community health workers. Manangazira is also accused of authorising procurement of goods worth US$280 529 without following due process.
She allegedly committed the offences at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Manangazira however this week filed an ap plication for exception at the commencement of her trial, saying the charges were not disclosing an offence.
She argued that the charges were defective because they did not state her duties as a public officer and the manner in which what was allegedly done was contrary to such duties.
Mananganzira was arrested by the Special Anti-Corruption Unit (Sacu), a department housed in the Office of the President and Cabinet, to “improve efficiency in the fight against all forms of graft and to strengthen the effectiveness of national mechanisms for the prevention of corruption,” according to government.
Matanda Moyo said: “What I know is that people were arrested for abuses of Covid-19 funds and matters are currently before the courts. They are being prosecuted. The dockets on Covid-19 funds abuses are there at the courts. What must be known is that we are only an investigating entity and we do not carry out prosecutions. After investigating, we forward our evidence to the prosecution section of the judiciary which is an independent body altogether.
“Accordingly, we do not have powers to act beyond investigations, so in the case of Moyo [ex-Health minister] we believe we did our best just like in any other case.”
The Zacc boss insisted that in the case of Moyo, the anti-graft body had provided what it thought was foolproof evidence. National police spokesperson Commissioner Paul Nyathi told The NewsHawks that he was unable to comment on the matter because he was away from office.
“I am in Masvingo. I am therefore unable to comment on the matter because I am not in the office at the moment,” he said.
The State must provide overwhelming evidence: JSC
Judicial Service Commission (JSC) secretary Walter Chikwanha said he could not comment in abstract terms over why there have not been convictions of people accused of abusing Covid-19 funds who include ex-minister Moyo and Nguwaya at the courts.
He referred questions to acting chief magistrate Faith Mushure, who said magistrates are guided by the threshold of determining whether an acussed person is guilty of a case laid against them or not.
“Our threshold for a conviction is proving a case against someone beyond reasonable doubt. That is what guides us in all matters including cases of Covid-19 funds abuses. So you will see that if that threshold is not met, a magistrate cannot convict someone.
“Having said that, the onus to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt lies with the state. So it is the state that must give us overwhelming evidence so that we can make convictions,” she said.
Prosecutor-General Nelson Mutsonziwa was evasive when asked for comment.
“What you need to do is to talk to those people (prosecutors) at that station (Harare magistrates’ court) who are handling those cases. They are the ones who can give you an overview of what has been happening with the cases because they are the ones who handle them. Here you are talking to the Prosecutor-General. It is like you are talking to the Chief Justice,” he said.
Obert Chinhamo, director of the Kwekwe-based Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa, confirmed that in the Midlands the police and Zacc had not arrested anyone in connection with Auditor-General Chiri’s report.
In her report, Chiri said in the Midlands there was no transparency in the payment of bus fare to discharged inmates at Covid-19 quarantine centres due to the absence of documented guidelines to determine the amount due to each one of them.
She added that there was no evidence that the inmates had received the indicated amounts due to the absence of signed payment schedules and revealed that at Midlands provincial social welfare office paid bus fares totalling ZW$604 760 without signed payment schedules.
“The anomalies noted by Auditor-General and Parliament have not been addressed in Midlands this far. There is now lack of trust within ordinary people here that there will ever be redress on these issues of abuse of Covid-19 funds,” said Chinhamo.
In her report, Chiri demonstrated that allowances meant for food insecure households, disabled people, the elderly and child-headed families were abused.
She said: “There were clear control weaknesses identified in most of the visited provinces relating to the ordering, delivery, invoicing and payment of goods and services. Inadequate record keeping was a common feature across the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) who did not always have updated or reliable information on donations and how they were distributed, goods and services delivered and reports on the implementation status of Government initiatives to fight the pandemic.
“The lack of validation, integration and sharing of data and outdated or incorrect information across Government platforms resulted in some beneficiaries, including Government officials, receiving Covid-19 relief disbursements they might not have been entitled. This defeated the purpose of the disbursements as the intended beneficiaries could have been deprived of the assistance.”
Chiri said the inability to coordinate and oversee complementary efforts by multiple government departments and agencies and in managing the usage of ZW$1 980 876 disbursed for funding of frontline workers and public sector investment projects such as the provision of clean water, ablution facilities, quarantine and isolation services and other services necessary in the fight against Covid-19, affected the timeous take-off of these projects.
“The disbursement of ZW$89 022 103 worth of Covid-19 allowances by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Head Office to SMEs whose businesses were forced to close due to measures put in place to minimise the spread of Covid-19, food insecure households, people with disabilities, the elderly, chronically ill persons and child-headed households from May 19, 2020 to December 12, 2020 failed to achieve intended results due to various reasons which include unreliable databases, duplicate payments to beneficiaries and the payment to beneficiaries with fictitious particulars.
“There was neither a follow-up nor feedback mechanism to verify if the allowances had reached the intended beneficiaries despite evidence that in some instances, the mobile money service provider issued two lines to the same person, some of the lines were not uploaded with the allowances and the presence of piles of uncollected sim cards at District and Provincial offices.”
Chiri said the ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation also paid Covid-19 relief allowances ranging from ZW$1 500 to ZW$5 000 to youths, sportspersons and artists whose sources of income were negatively affected by the Covid-19 national lockdown measures through a selection process conducted at district offices.
“However, the Ministry failed to achieve the objective of the intervention in some instances due to non-compliance with the Covid-19 Youth Relief Fund Operational Framework Section 3 (2) (a) which required beneficiaries of the Covid-19 relief funds to avail proof of operation for a minimum of 6 months to a year prior to the lockdown.
“Seven (7) Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) in Manicaland, Mashonaland West and Matabeleland South paid COVID-19 allowances totalling ZW$2 654 089 and airtime worth ZW$22 165 to members of staff reporting for duty during the national lockdown period covering April to July 2020 without competent authority.”
She said a total of $3 999 300 was disbursed to urban food assistance beneficiaries in the Midlands province between April and August 2020 without evidence of a pre-assessment suitability being done, “contrary to the requirements of Section 4 (3) of Social Welfare Assistance Act [Chapter 17:06] which prescribes the need for review and assessment of eligibility of persons for social welfare assistance.”
She also noted that there were serious management issues at the country’s quarantine centres.
“I observed some anomalies in the management of Quarantine Centres where the procurement process for food and other provisions were not supported by approved requisitions from the centres. Equally missing was lack of evidence of reconciliations of the cost of goods and services paid for by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Head Office with the actual goods and services received by each Quarantine Centre.”
She said there was slow progress in the rehabilitation and refurbishment of Isolation Centres. As at 12 December 2020, a total of ZW$180 000 000 had been disbursed to central, provincial and district hospitals for these purposes, but only nine centres had been completed and functional out of the targeted 32 centres countrywide.