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Karoi town secretary suspended again

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UNDER-FIRE Karoi town secretary Wellington Mutikani enjoyed a brief stay as the local authority’s accounting officer after he was served with a second suspension letter for allegedly violating council rules, in a long-standing case involving a lodge he owns, The NewsHawks has gathered.

NHAU MANGIRAZI

Mutikani is at the centre of an ongoing scandal involving the construction of a private lodge above the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) main pipe.

He is also accused of approving an “unsanctioned loan” to purchase pipe-diversion materials for his Champion Lodge.

Sources said the council managed to get a new lawyer to work on Mutikani’s charges in connection with his 8 October suspension that was endorsed on 11 October by a full council meeting.

He was officially sent on forced leave on 8 October, a day after he had pledged to make

ZW$50 000 monthly repayments to the local authority.

This triggered debate among councillors, as the amount tendered was not contained in any council resolution. Karoi town went without water supplies for three days in October last year when the Zinwa main pipe underneath his Champion Lodge burst.

However, this week on Wednesday, council wrote a letter to Mutikani reinstating and suspending him again with charges, according to sources who spoke to The NewsHawks.

‘‘It had been a technical challenge after our former council attorneys, Mangwana and Associates, recused themselves from representing council on the matter. We had to procure the services of another legal team. They had a duty to defend a request by Mutikani when he approached the High Court that his suspension was illegal. We had to serve him with part of charges as he was forced to be on forced leave with full benefits,’’ a source said on condition of anonymity.

Council chairperson Abel Matsika is yet to present the charge sheet to the local authority explaining how he has reinstated and suspended Mutikani for the second time.

‘‘The challenge we have is that the council chairperson is yet to formally brief the council and procedurally he may not jump the gun by confirming to the media without council’s blessings,’’ a councillor who refused to be named, said.

Mutikani has once again been sent on forced leave to facilitate investigations into how he advanced himself a “loan” that he used to purchase materials meant for the diversion of water pipes from his Champion Lodge, a private business, in which he is co-director with his wife Keresia Kanyuririra.

‘‘It is true that Mutikani was briefly reinstated by Matsika without setting foot in his offices. The letters were delivered to him through a messenger of court late on Wednesday. As of Thursday, Matsika was locked in a series of meetings on the way forward,’’ a source explained the source added: “

It was resolved that Mutikani must be charged with criminal abuse of office for allocating himself a loan without a resolution. There are several charges including buying materials for the Zinwa pipe-diversion without going to tender, among others. Furthermore, he faces non-discourse charges after he spent public funds on his private lodge.”

Matsika was tight-lipped on Thursday this week, saying he could not make an official statement on the Mutikani saga.

‘‘I am still waiting for the lawyer to give me the roadmap and I can’t comment on anything for now,’’ Matsika said in a brief response.

The council found itself in sixes and sevens after lawyer Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana recused himself from representing the council at the eleventh hour.

Mutikani is under fire for buying materials worth several thousand US dollars for the diversion of Zinwa’s main water pipe, in whose pathway he built his Champion Lodge.

The law firm Mangwana and Associates, which has represented the council for several years, withdrew at the eleventh hour, saying it could not profer legal counsel to the local authority on the matter.

Karoi council approached the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz) to secure a lawyer to represent the local authority

‘‘We had to procure the services of a lawyer through procurement procedures that we need to meet a 14-day deadline before we lay official charges against him. This will pave way for further investigations into the matter,’’ a source said on condition of anonymity.

Recently, the Zimbabwe National Organisation of Associations and Residents Trusts (ZNOART)’s Mashonaland West provincial chairperson Liberty Chitiya said Karoi residents have watched the Champion Lodge saga since last year’s outcry when the town ran dry for three days.

‘‘ZNOART is not surprised over Mutikani’s suspension after alleged abuse of council funds in his water diversion without full council approval. Accountability and transparency by public officials in the use of public funds is welcome and one of the objectives of our umbrella residents’ organisations is nevertheless partly satisfied with the suspension, but at the same time we must listen to residents’ voices as the whole issue is merely a suspension with full council benefits,’’ Chitiya said.

He added that since Mutikani pledged to pay back ZW$50 000 monthly, the gesture was viewed by residents as a sign of guilt for abusing public funds.

‘‘It is worrisome as the matter becomes purely legal,’’ Chitiya added in a written statement.

According to Chitiya, Karoi residents face the double jeopardy of being deprived of their service delivery funds whilst simultaneously being forced to pay the legal fees.

‘‘This further deprives residents of the much-needed service delivery. In this microcosmic case, ratepayers face the predicament of being between a hard rock and the deep end in terms of recovering the alleged amounts whilst pursuing legal channels using another chunk of their rates. The saga is thus a call to policymakers towards aligning ratepayers’ needs with constitutional labour laws. There is a need for strengthening corporate governance laws without undermining service delivery, which is playing second fiddle to council officials’ protection by labour laws,’’ concluded Chitiya.

Karoi town council has attracted publicity after housing director Sibingile Mujuruki was suspended in 2019 and later reinstated under controversial circumstances, exposing questionable governance procedures, as she led a shambolic housing department, in which leases went missing, amid double allocation of stands.

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