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Karoi suspends town secretary fingered in corruption, building lodge on illegal site

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THE Karoi Town Council has suspended secretary Wellington Mutikani, a day after the task of fact-finding team investigating how his lodge was built on top of a Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) main pipe was tabled at a full council meeting, showing that he also allegedly used council funds to build the illegal structure.

NHAU MANGIRAZI

Council chairperson Abel Matsika told The NewsHawks council suspended Mutikani to pave way for further investigations.

‘‘Yes, it is true that council suspended the town secretary as he did not declare his interest where public funds were used to buy materials for his lodge. There was no council resolution for the release of the funds for water diversion. We are waiting for our attorneys to make the charges. For now, he has been suspended with full benefits,’’ Matsika said.

A Karoi councillor said: ‘‘Councillors were shocked after Mutikani pledged to pay back (RTGS50 000 monthly) the monies used for his lodge diversion without a council resolution. Furthermore, the probe was never made public to policymakers.

He was challenged to prove who had approved the use of public funds for personal property and was at pains to say how he did it. Councillors feel that officials are undermining policymakers with impunity.’’

Contacted for comment, Mutikani confirmed his suspension, but would not discuss the matter.

Council administrator Hastings Makunda, who was acting housing director, has been appointed acting town secretary.

The Zinwa pipe burst underneath Champion Lodge last October, depriving the farming town of water services for three days, while exposing potential corruption in the allocation of stands.

Areas and institutions which went without water between 23 October and 26 October, include the central business district, low-density suburbs of Westview, Jubilee, Crescent Lane, Lakeview, Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services and Karoi Hospital.

Mutikani and his wife Kerenia Kanyurira are co-directors of Champion Lodge, which was built-in 2010. The investigation was instituted following a full council resolution.

The appointment letter sent to Hurungwe district development coordinator Andrew Tizora and dated 2 November 2020 reads: ‘‘Please be advised that in line with a Special Full council meeting held on 29 October 2020 under resolution number SFC/417/20 council resolved that you be appointed in a fact-finding committee to look into circumstances surrounding the construction of property over water mainline at Stand number 7899 Lakeview, where there was a pipe burst.’’

The letter, written by Mutikani then, hinted the committee would take into consideration the background of the matter, a perusal of water distribution in the entire town, ascertaining possible remedial action to the pipe under the property as well ascertaining other properties irregularly built on water pipes, and on land meant for Zesa electricity mains and Tel-One cabling.

The document added: ‘‘Review of any efforts that have been made towards mitigating their irregular allocations over water mains and electrical power transmission lines. Finally, the committee must make recommendations.’’

Tizora chaired the committee which had officials from council’s engineering and audit departments, as well as Zinwa, among others.

The report was not made public.

Karoi Development Agenda (KDA), a coalition of civil society organisations fighting for transparency, social justice and accountability, welcomed the impending investigations at the council that they say was long overdue.

‘‘We have noted with concern where senior officers are abusing public positions for personal benefits and this has been going on unchecked at the expense of the public good. There is a need to have watertight charges to whoever is suspected of abuse of power and public trust. There are several cases that have been swept under the carpet and these must be brought out professionally without victimisation,’’ KDA said in a statement.

It added that the suspension of Mutikani must prove that there is justice in how public funds are used and accounted for.

‘‘We have raised concern on how devolution funds were abused through purchasing of substandard goods and as accounting officer he never proved that he could stop ongoing scandals at council procurement department that he presides. The investigation must not leave any stone unturned,’’ KDA added.

Mutikani, a former council finance director, was appointed substantive secretary in 2017, upstaging eight shortlisted candidates out of 59 applicants. The council has been in the spotlight due to serious financial leakages in the procurement department, and is fighting a legal battle with Solutions Motors, after paying for a 20-tonne refuse truck in 2017 that was never delivered.

Mutikani’s suspension came a few days after housing director Sibongile Mujuruki bounced back under controversial circumstances facilitated by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) which recommended that she return to work. She has been on suspension since 2019, but challenged the sanction in the High Court which ruled in her favour in June 2021.

A four-member Zacc team led by Clara Nyakotyo made a “recommendation” for Mujuruki to resume work after a week-long compliance and review meeting with council and residents’ associations.

Zacc and council have not signed a memorandum of understanding for implementation as the review meetings help in plugging corruption.

The Karoi housing department has been in the spotlight since 2018, when Auditor-General Mildred Chiri exposed the “shambolic housing department”, which lacks proper documentation for council property, leaving the local authority vulnerable to corruption.

The “re-appointment” of Mujuruki who was facing allegations of abuse of office has deepened the confusion at Karoi council at a time the local authority insists she should be charged.

Zacc spokesperson John Makamure justified his organisation’s move.

‘‘I sought clarification and am sure you are fully aware that Mujuruki is not under investigation and was cleared by the courts to return to work. Were you expecting Zacc to go against a court judgment? We respect the rule of law,’’ charged Makamure.

‘‘When it was agreed that she (Mujuruki) be allowed to go back to work by courts, the council wrote that letter to send her on leave, claiming that there is a pending case at the courts. This is the same case that Zimbabwe Republic Police advised them that the same case had been investigated and they could not open the same case again. She then approached the courts and the council lost it again and was advised not to continue placing her on forced leave. I think I have managed to clarify. I will not take kindly any attempts to twist what I have said. Zacc carries out above-board systems and compliance reviews in order to strengthen corporate governance and plug any loopholes for corruption,’’ Makamure said.

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