CHITUNGWIZA Municipality collected pension fund contributions from its workers between 2009 and 2013 amounting to US$13 million on behalf of Unified Councils Pension Fund (UCPF) but failed to remit the money.
The municipality is now planning to cover up the abuse of funds by parcelling out land to UCPF in a development that has angered local residents, The NewsHawks has established.
The land which the embattled local authority wants to give UCPF is stand number 810 in Zengeza Township measuring 4739 square metres held under deed of transfer 0000021/2015 and stand number 22997 also known as Zengeza Ground measuring approximately 14 923 square metres.
The decision to sell the land was announced by acting town clerk Japson Nemuseso. He impressed on management to honour a 2019 agreement for Chitungwiza to give the land to UCPF in order to settle its arrears of US$13 million that resulted in a dispute which spilled to the High Court.
UCPF took Chitungwiza Municipality to the High Court in 2019 for failing to pay over US$13 million towards its employees’ pension contributions under case number HC10137.
At that time, UCPF submitted that despite Chitungwiza Municipality having made an undertaking to pay the debt in 2017, nothing had been done.
The municipality, according to court papers, deducted its employees’ pension contributions, but did not remit the funds to the pension fund.
Resultantly, the council now wants to settle the debt using land and is resisting calls by residents to account for the US$13 million.
Chitungwiza Residents Trust director Alice Kuvheya told The NewsHawks that residents were against the idea of parcelling out land meant for recreational facilities.
“What we know is that workers contributed US$6 monthly to the pension fund which was collected by the council. Instead of the council handing over the cash to the UCPF, the money did not reach the fund. We have been demanding answers to say: Who abused the fund? Now they want to cover up the debt with land without consulting residents. We are against the move,” she said.
The municipality has taken a decision to ignore residents’ concerns raised in a recent meeting convened by mayor Kiven Mutimbanyoka of Zanu PF.
Mutimbanyoka did not respond to questions sent via WhatsApp by The NewsHawks on 29 June although he read them. He was not answering calls on his mobile phone.
Chitungwiza Municipality spokesperson Lovemore Meya downplayed the standoff. He said the local authority had advertised its intention to parcel out the land and residents had 21 days to object.
“As council, we are still in the objection period as indicated in the advert. After receiving objections, we will then see how to proceed,” he said.
Meya however refused to answer questions on the unaccounted money which council is accused of abusing, saying he needed clearance from his superiors.
“I am working on responses but need clearance from a superior. Unfortunately he is not around. He went out and I do not know when he will be back,” he said.
Marvelous Kumalo, the director of the Chitungwiza and Manyame Rural Residents Association (Camera) and chairperson of the Harare Metropolitan Residents Forum (Hamref), said the issue of the pension fund abuse was worrying.
“What has happened is that council collected the pension fund contributions and was supposed to forward them to the UCPF, but did not do so. The debt accrued and we understand that as a solution they now want to dispose Zengeza 5 land.
“The residents are objecting because there are few sporting facility areas that are left after Chigovanyika and Chemhanza and St Mary’s as well. So indeed Chitungwiza Municipality abused the pension fund. The way Chitungwiza is settling its debts is unsustainable. The land, once parcelled out, it’s gone and as we speak the land bank is finished.
“Our proposal is that the council must raise revenue and pay the debt to the council fund in monetary terms, not parcelling out land,” he said.
Obert Matsika, the Zimbabwe National Organisation of Associations and Residents Trusts, Chitungwiza chapter chairperson, told The NewsHawks that the council risks legal action over the abuse of the pension fund and its intention to cover up via a dodgy land deal.
“We are prepared to have a last meeting with the mayor and management this coming week and if we fail to get satisfactory answers we will take the legal route,” he said.
Matsika also revealed that the residents are demanding a forensic audit at Chitungwiza Municipality.
“We are calling for forensic audits, we need to know more. There’s a syndicate swindling ratepayers. We held several meetings with mayor Maiko, Mutimbanyoka, councillors and management demanding accountability on those funds and some grey areas which we notified them of.
“They never gave satisfactory answers, they promise to give you better information later, which they don’t honour,” he said.