Chief magistrate misuses funds

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CHIEF Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe is embroiled in allegations of systematic misuse of Victim Friendly Court (VFC) funds through double-dipping and underhand procurement processes by VFC officials.

Report by Paidamoyo Muzulu

It has also emerged some shelf companies were awarded contracts by VFC to refurbish courtrooms under unclear circumstances, Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.

VFC is funded by Save the Children and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) to promote children’s rights and for swift delivery of justice in cases involving minors who are victims of sexual or physical abuse. It now has 17 courts throughout the country, but allegations against Guvamombe cover a period when VFC still had 10 courts — one in each province.

Documents in our possession also finger deputy chief magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi, Supreme Court Registrar Walter Chikwanha and fired VFC national coordinator Idine Magonga.

The officers are alleged to have on various occasions claimed from the VFC travel and subsistence allowances in cash while they attended functions fully paid for by government or other organisations. Payment vouchers suggest that the officials would receive money for staying in private residences, but made no claims for transport costs.

On other occasions they would allegedly raise payment vouchers for companies falsely said to have provided services to VFC, and share the cash.

Documents also allege that Guvamombe, Mutevedzi and Chikwanha on several occasions received VFC travel and subsistence allowances when at the same time attending fully paid trips by government or some other stakeholders. Guvamombe, Chikwanha and Magonga were signatories on most of the payment vouchers and letters of instruction to FBC Bank to provide money in cash.

Guvamombe and Chikwanha, for example, on November 28, 2012 received allowances of US$225 each purportedly to do a three-day evaluation of the VFC in Mutare. However, at the same time the two are said to have attended a Magistrates Association meeting in the town fully funded by the association.

The officials would raise travel and subsistence payment vouchers purportedly for assignments and seek the VFC’s bankers FBC to release the money in cash instead of bank transfers to the suppliers of services.

Guvamombe acknowledged receiving the payments but claims his tours also included other duties covered by Judicial Services Commission (JSC).

“When I did monitoring and evaluation visits to the provinces usually I also did other duties pertaining to my office which were paid for by the JSC. It would be wrong to say every visit had to be specifically for monitoring and evaluation,” he said.

He however denied other allegations, but admitted he has instituted new measures of accounting at VFC to plug all loopholes that could be used to siphon funds from VFC accounts.

“We are aware of those allegations but the Judicial Services Commission has done an audit which proved that everything was done above board,” Guvamombe said.

The allegations came to light through an internal memorandum from Magonga copied to the secretary of the JSC, Save the Children, the President’s Office, Unicef and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights which detailed the allegations.

In the memo dated June 18, 2013, Magonga protested that his summary dismissal was meant to sweep cases of abused donor funds in the department under the carpet.

“It is insincere and frivolous for you to terminate my contract on the grounds that I am an MDC-T member when you are fully aware that I became a cause for concern in your department when I reported to you the siphoning and looting of donor funds meant for children by your office,” wrote Magonga.

Magonga complains that he was not afforded an opportunity to have an exit interview since his dismissal was political and had nothing to do with failure to deliver on his duties. He believes this was done deliberately so that he would be denied an opportunity to further raise the allegations of abuse of funds against his superiors.

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