Gokwe Town Council last weekend pledged to weed out corruption at the local authority following reports of alleged graft that led to the indefinite suspension of two top managers.
BY BRENNA MATENDERE
Early this year, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission arrested and took to court Melania Mandeya, the town secretary, for allegedly abusing her office by fixing tenders, engaging in favouritism and improperly acquiring property.
Joconia Nyoni, the finance director, has also appeared in court for alleged corruption and is out on bail.
The arrests followed reports by NewsDay and its sister paper The Standard. The newspapers ran a series of investigative stories about corruption at the town council in collaboration with Information for Development Trust (IDT).
Both Mandeya and Nyoni were placed on indefinite suspension for alleged mismanagement.
Joseph Madhlokuwa has since been appointed the acting town secretary and on Saturday, acknowledged that corruption had become rife at the town council, which now has town status.
Speaking at a community meeting organised by IDT in partnership with the Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) to discuss corruption and mismanagement at the Gokwe Town Council, Madhlokuwa promised to act on graft.
“We have been encouraging residents to actually set traps that could lead to the arrest of any of our officials perpetuating corruption. We have information that some of our officials are receiving bribes. There have been reports of multiple allocations of residential stands and we are investigating the issue,” he said.
“We also have reports that residents who refuse to pay bribes are being denied services. When I started working as acting secretary, I found a huge pile of such applications that haven’t been actioned. We are also investigating nepotism in the recruitment of staff.”
The acting town secretary promised to scrutinise tendering procedures at the local authority after residents complained that underserving companies and individuals were being allocated contracts after bribing officials.
Residents alleged that tenders were being given to outsiders even in cases where local suppliers had the capacity.
Gokwe ward 2 councillor Leadmore Mutembedzi, who doubles as the audit committee chairperson, told the meeting that trust in the council had improved following the suspension of Mandeya and Nyoni.
“People were boycotting paying rates due to reports of the abuse of funds and mismanagement. But I can confirm that revenue collection has improved because residents are gradually regaining confidence in us,” he said.
Participants resolved to set up communication channels for residents and the local authority to interact and share ideas to improve governance and service delivery.
They also called for better supervision of staff to minimise corruption and bad governance.
Residents urged the local authority to consult them regularly before making key decisions on issues that include tenders, prices of residential stands, water and sewage reticulation charges.
Obert Chinhamo, the ACT-SA director, urged residents to improve local advocacy to enhance accountability.
“It’s encouraging that participants showed a lot of energy in the drive to enhance transparency and accountability in Gokwe. The dialogues must be replicated not only in Gokwe, but throughout the country as they strengthen unity of purpose among residents,” he said.
Gokwe deputy mayor Charity Mungwani, four councillors, representatives from the Gokwe Farmers Association, the Gokwe United Residents Association, the local vendors association, the local ACT-SA chapter and a former district development co-ordinator and local government expert, Plaxidiah Chirongoma, also attended the meeting.