Zimbabwe: Council Boss' Woes Mount

Gokwe town councillors have laid fresh corruption charges against suspended town council secretary, Melania Mandeya, amid reports of a crackdown by management on whistleblowers, who are set to testify against her in court over a pending case of criminal abuse of office which is at the courts.

The Standard, working in collaboration with Information for Development Trust, recently investigated and revealed a slew of acts of mismanagement when Mandeya was still in office. This prompted the Gokwe Residents Association leader, Nefas Mhangani, to launch a formal report with the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), which investigated the matter and arrested Mandeya on charges unearthed in the story, among them, unprocedurally receiving a residential stand and nepotism.

The town's director of finance, Joconia Nyoni, was early this year arrested for allegedly conniving with Mandeya.

In a follow-up probe last week, it was revealed that councillors had made further investigations and crafted fresh charges against Mandeya for allegedly circumventing a government directive to cap management salaries at US$2 400 from 2014.

The councillors are reported to have discovered that Mandeya allocated herself and other top managers salaries well above the amounts stipulated by government.

Acting Gokwe town secretary, Joseph Mandhlokuwa, confirmed the development in an interview with The Standard, and said Mandeya would face disciplinary action.

"The disciplinary hearing was supposed to be conducted today (Thursday), but it has been postponed to later this month.

"The suspended town secretary gave an excuse that she was not feeling well," he said.

Individuals who reported Mandeya to the law enforcement agents, however, accused Mandhlokuwa's team of persecuting them. They suspect the victimisation is meant to give Mandeya a soft landing at the courts.

Obert Chinhamo, director of the Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA), confirmed receiving reports of victimisation of the key witnesses -- Mhangami and ward 1 councillor, Davies Taruvinga -- in the criminal case against Mandeya.

Taruvinga was the council chairperson of the finance and administration committee when allegations of corruption involving the suspended town secretary were made.

Mhangami and Taruvinga told The Standard that they were being pressured to abandon testifying in court. Mhangami said unidentified people recently came to his house at night and ordered him to stop his involvement in the case against Mandeya.

"I reported the issue and it is being investigated under case number RRB 140/05/20. 'I, however, will not succumb to the pressure," he said.

Taruvinga said: "My life is in danger. At one time a red Toyota Wish chased me and I was saved by driving into a funeral parlour. "Another man also threatened me at a bar here in Gokwe, while a top official in management at Gokwe Town Council openly ordered me to stop going to court to testify against Mandeya when the trial resumes."

He added that intelligence servicemen based in Gokwe recently summoned him to their offices and showed him a letter alleging that he had at one time "improperly" chaired a meeting, but viewed the action by the secret service as intimidation.

"I could see that the guys (from intelligence) were trying to intimidate me so that I could drop my position of going to testify against Mandeya," said Taruvinga.

Chinhamo pleaded for protection of the whistleblowers.

"ACT-SA is gravely disturbed by reports of increased reprisals against individuals suspected of having exposed corruption at Gokwe Town Council that resulted in the arrest of the town secretary, Melania Mandeya, and the director of finance," said Chinhamo. "Suspected whistleblowers are being harassed by the local authority."

However, Mandhlokuwa dismissed the allegations, saying: "We are not sending anyone to victimise the witnesses in the case against suspended town secretary, Mandeya. We are, in fact, urging the witnesses or the whistleblowers to go to court when the date comes, so that the courts can assess the matter on merit.

Nothing should be swept under the carpet," he said.

John Makamure, the Zacc spokesperson, urged whistleblowers facing victimisation to report to the commission.

"We are not aware of the victimisation. "We urge people being victimised to quickly file reports of harassment for the culprits to be brought to book," said Makamure.

Midlands provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Joel Goko, said they were investigating the reports of the alleged victimisation.

"The ultimate result of victimising witnesses is that the bail issued to the accused person could be overturned," he said.

"That is because the bail conditions clearly state that witnesses must not be interfered with or victimised."

Mandeya did not respond to written questions, as well as calls when contacted for comment and would not avail details of her lawyer.

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