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New twist to Karoi Town secretary suspension saga

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KAROI Town Council has been forced to search for a legal team to deal with suspended secretary Wellington Mutikani’s case, following the “recusal” of a law firm that has been representing the local authority for several years, The NewsHawks has established.

NHAU MANGIRAZI

Mutikani is under fire for buying materials worth several thousands of US dollars, which he used in allegedly diverting a Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) main pipe built on top of his Champion Lodge.

Sources revealed that Mangwana and Associates, a law firm that represented council for several years, threw in the towel at the eleventh hour, saying it could not continue profering legal advice to council on the matter.

Council chairperson Abel Matsika suspended Mutikani with immediate effect on full benefits on 8 October after a council meeting in which Mutikani pledged to repay the money he had advanced himself.

On 11 October, a special full council endorsed Mutikani’s suspension.

Council approached Mangwana and Associates for legal counsel on the matter, as Matsika had indicated that full charges against Mutikani’s suspension would ensue.

However, efforts to have the lawyers lay charges against Mutikani hit a brick wall after senior partner Paul Mangwana called for “recusal” after council sought legal advice on how to lay charges against the senior officer, leaving the local authority in sixes and sevens.

A source revealed that the council was forced to look for an alternative plan as they are racing against time.

‘‘We have been forced to move away from Mangwana and Associates on this matter. Professionally, the council has to go through the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Praz) to get a lawyer to represent the council. We are procuring the services of a lawyer through procurement procedures that we need to meet a 14-day deadline before we lay out the official charges to him. This will pave way for further investigation into the matter,’’ a source speaking on condition of anonymity said.

Matsika was diplomatic on the matter, saying everything will be decided through council resolutions.

‘‘For now, we cannot say much as the council will be doing everything above board. The charges against him (Mutikani) will come through anytime soon, but he remains suspended with full benefits,’’ Matsika said.

Lawyer Paul Mangwana would neither confirm nor deny the recusal, saying the matter was not for public consumption.

‘‘I am sorry I cannot comment on the issue as we don’t discuss our issues with our clients through the media. We’re not allowed in our profession to discuss such matters with journalists,’’ Mangwana said in a telephone interview this week.

Zimbabwe National Organisations of Associations and Residents Trusts (ZNOART)’s Mashonaland West provincial chairperson Liberty Chitiya said Karoi residents have closely followed the Champion Lodge saga since last year’s outcry when the town went 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 are welcome and one of the objectives of our umbrella residents organisation is nevertheless partly satisfied with the suspension, but at the same time listening to residents’ voices, as the whole issue is merely a suspension with full council benefits.

“If it is true that Mutikani pledged to pay back ZW$50 000 monthly, a sign which residents took for being guilty of abusing funds for personal property, it is worrisome, as the matter becomes purely legal,’’ he said in a written statement.

Chitiya added that residents face the double jeopardy of being deprived of service delivery funds whilst simultaneously being forced to pay the legal fees as council attorneys press charges, thus further prejudicing residents.

‘‘In this microcosmic case, ratepayers face the predicament of being between hard rock and deep end towards 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 of corporate governance laws without undermining service delivery, which is playing second fiddle to council officials’ protection by labour laws.”

Chitiya emphasised that the organisation is calling for accountability for public funds.

‘‘ZNOART thus urgently demands that public funds be accessed through means that can be easily accounted for using knowledge systems shared by all stakeholders, not these accounting practices that are exclusive and prone to abuse by the elite. We are going to take a keen interest in legal proceedings and it is our hope that the law will take its course in the best of interests of Karoi residents and ratepayers. At ZNOART, we fight corruption, abuse of office, fraud, and misappropriation of public funds by council officials. ZNOART is looking for best service delivery to all urban residents across the country and any form of misconduct is outrightly condemned.”

Interestingly, Mangwana and Associates has represented council as it battled to nail housing director Sibongile Mujuruki over her abuse of office charges involving the double allocation of stands and missing leases. The law firm has been pushing for Mujuruki’s prosecution on non-disclosure charges after she allegedly sold two stands on behalf of her sister and daughter.

Mangwana and Associates lawyers wrote a letter on 12 July 2021 to the Zimbabwe Republic Police officer-in-charge Karoi referenced Complaint against Sibongile H.A. Mujuruki-Director of Housing, Karoi Town Council.

‘‘We are under instructions to lodge a criminal complainant against Sibongile H.A. Mujuruki as we do hereby of the following. The accused person is employed by Karoi town council as Director of Housing and one of her responsibilities includes allocation of stands to those eligible and ensuring that allocation, transfer, and disposal of stands is done in a transparent manner and in a procedurally correct manner.

‘‘In 2014 and in the course and scope of her duties, the accused signed an agreement of sale on behalf of her sister Mercy Mujuruki who was selling an underdeveloped stand known as Stand 8254, Chiedza which was leased from the complainant.

‘‘The accused person did not disclose this transaction to her Principal despite it being clear that she had a personal interest in the matter,’’ part of the letter in our possession reads.
It further added that by signing the agreement of sale, the accused aided her sister in arranging the agreement between the complainant and Mercy Z Mujuruki yet the rules prohibited the sale of underdeveloped stands.

‘‘The complainant (Karoi Town Council) therefore firmly believes that a public officer, the accused engaged in conduct that is contrary to or inconsistent with the duty as contemplated by Section 174 (1) (a) of Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, Chapter 9.23. It is on the basis of the above facts that we are instructed to lodge this complainant as there is reasonable belief of commission of the criminal offence,’’ the letter reads.

It concludes by requesting that the local authority ensure the law takes its course.

‘‘We kindly request your good office to investigate the matter and arrest the accused at your earliest convenience. We further request that you keep us updated on progress in the matter as we have been instructed as watching brief.”

This emerged after Mujuruki was suspended for three months starting from 12 August till 15 December.

Mujuruki is also accused of leading a shambolic housing department where property documents, including lease agreements, have gone missing, with some documents suspected to have been destroyed.

On the other hand, Mutikani faces non-disclosure charges after he ‘‘advanced himself a loan’’ without council approval. The money was presumably for the purchase of materials to divert a Zinwa main water pipe which he is accused of building his lodge on top of.

Mutikani is co-director of Champion Lodge, with his wife Keresia Kanyurira.

A fact-finding committee appointed by council resolution in October last year presented its findings two weeks ago. It was then that all the hell broke loose for Mutikani.

‘‘After the tabling of findings to the full council, Mutikani went on to request to pay back ZW$50 000. So why pay back if you were authorised? We wonder what really prompted him to pay back the money if everything was above board as he wants the world to know that it’s unjust for his suspension?’’ a councillor, speaking on condition of anonymity, asked.

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