Five of the 33 Chitungwiza Municipality councillors and officials picked up for questioning during a meeting, convened in contravention of the Urban Councils Act to replace the acting town clerk after she blocked 2000 offer letters and leases, have been formally arrested on charges of criminal abuse of office and breaching the Act.
The other 27 were released by police after being questioned. The three councillors and two officials formally arrested are: Peter Matiringe Cllr for Ward 10, Richard Chimutsa (Ward 5), Chengetai Nyagondo (Ward 14), David Duma (engineering manager) and Munyaradzi Chizanga (acting finance director).
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said investigations were still in progress. The five were “assisting police with investigations for criminal abuse of office and violating the Urban Councils Act”, he said.
The meeting was called by a group of MDC-A councillors who have been selling residential stands using backdated offer letters for alleged personal gain.
Acting Town Clerk Mrs Evangelista Machona had on Monday rescinded more than 2 000 offer letters dating back to last year and blocked the issuing of leases, a move prompted by ongoing investigations into their validity.
That in turn caused the group to move swiftly to replace her as acting town clerk with Engineer David Duma. Since everyone was or would be acting, the group figured all that was required was a simple council resolution.
The alleged scam that Mrs Machona blocked was the sale of stands last year, or this year with backdated offer letters, for US dollars with the organising councillors then paying the council in local currency at roughly 1-1 and pocketing the huge difference generated by new exchange rates.
A 200-square-metre residential stand would be sold for US$4 000 but the councillors paid a miserly $4 611,50 in local currency for each stand to the local authority. Calculations show that council could have been prejudiced of over US$8 million in potential revenue.
In September this year, an undercover Herald reporter also applied and received a backdated 2019 offer letter, plus a demand for a “processing charge”.
With their voices drowned by the MDC-A councillors, four Zanu PF councillors could do nothing to stop the rot and in an interview yesterday, Zanu PF Chitungwiza Cllr for Ward 13 Kiven Mutimbanyoka said corruption at the council had reached alarming levels under the watch of the opposition party.
“It was during a full council meeting that the MDC councillors sneaked in an agenda item to replace Mrs Machona whom Local Government Minister July Moyo tasked to be part of the investigative team set up to look into the misappropriation of land in the town.
“Mrs Machona on Monday also said offer letters issued last year were not allocated above board and the MDC councillors were not happy with the move as it would put them on a collision course with beneficiaries of the scam,” said the councillor.
Cllr Mutimbanyoka said despite giving the MDC councillors sound advice during the meeting they defiantly resolved to replace Mrs Machona with Engineer Duma.
“As four Zanu PF councillors at Chitungwiza, we advised that since the Provincial Development Coordinator, Mr Tafadzwa Muguti, had recommended that we employ substantive heads by end of year there was no need to replace Mrs Machona considering that it is only three weeks to the end of the year.
“We also felt that the choice of Duma was wrong since he has a bail condition that prohibits him from being at council. Also there is a clear directive from Minister Moyo given last year to remove him and housing director Hazel Sithole from office until they have been cleared by the police,” he said.
Cllr Mutimbanyoka said Engineer Duma was once appointed as the acting town clerk following the suspension of Dr George Makunde, but he failed dismally leaving the council to send him on forced leave.
“This was an ulterior motive by the MDC councillors to do the bidding for their land misappropriation and corruption activities. He was once arrested with MDC mayor Lovemore Maiko on August 28, 2019, who after his release singlehandedly appointed him the acting town clerk without a resolution,” he said.
“Duma is well known for bidding for the MDC councillors unlike Mrs Machona who has been cooperating with Government in terms of sanitising council. She was blocking them from the unlawful activities.”
Cllr Mutimbanyoka said in his day-to-day duties as an engineer, Duma has also failed to deal with issues of water woes, sewer bursts and general maintenance of council equipment.
As Zanu PF, they were completely distancing themselves from the smuggled resolution during the meeting that was chaired by Cllr Peter Matiringe. The item was proposed by Ward 14 Cllr Chengetai Nyagondo and seconded by Richard Chamutsa.
The meeting was being chaired by Cllr Matiringe as both mayor Lovemore Maiko and his deputy Musa Makweza have pending criminal abuse of office charges that restrict them from interfering with witnesses at the council offices.
Clr Mutimbanyoka hailed Government for intervening by blocking the demotion of Mrs Machona.
“As Zanu PF, we welcome the move by our leaders in the fight against corruption,” he said.
Zanu-PF Ward 4 councillor Reginald Mashingaidze also said MDC councillors were offside in trying to replace an acting town clerk with another.
“My main worry is how can we spend time deliberating on replacement of an acting town clerk instead of just finalising the issue of the substantive one,” he said.
“This clearly shows that there are people with ulterior motives. What is so special about Duma? Is he the only director at council?”
Mrs Machona yesterday confirmed that she had instructed the blocking of signing of leases.
“It is true that l gave an instruction during a management meeting that 2019 stands allocation are under investigation and for the time being we should stop signing leases until the verification process has been finished,” she said.
Commenting on her demotion, Mrs Machona said she was not privy to the details apart from hearing during the full council meeting that someone who was acting in her position was overwhelmed.