ZIMBABWE National Roads Administration (Zinara) senior managers have been placed under formal police investigation after a forensic audit implicated them in a massive corruption scandal in which they are suspected of systematically creaming off the parastatal over several years through underhand dealings.
The damning audit, whose report had hitherto remained under wraps as Zinara bosses and Ministry of Transport officials sought to conceal its findings, exposed massive financial abuse where US$142 million was paid to illegally hired road maintenance contractors.
It also emerged this week that the Procurement Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) has, albeit in vain, been trying to lay its hands on the audit report as part of its investigation to review road maintenance contracts. PRAZ turned to police for assistance after Zinara and ministry officials blocked access to the report.
The Zimbabwe Independent, however, exclusively saw the incriminating report last week, which revealed Zinara bosses would cherry-pick contractors, enter into agreements and make direct payments, thereby circumventing respective local authorities.
In contravention of the law, the report said, some jobs were done without any contracts while others were hired without going to tender.
The audit covered the period of August 2009 to December 2016, during the time Frank Chitukutuku was at the helm of the cash-rich parastatal.
Auditors noted that total disbursements made by Zinara for periodic and routine road maintenance for the period under review amounted to US$42 203 348.
The audit also discovered that senior Zinara officials would routinely hire contractors, thereby usurping the responsibilities of local authorities which at law are supposed to do so.
The Independent can report that the Central Investigation Department (CID)’s commercial crimes division this week launched a large-scale corruption investigation at the state institution after obtaining a search-and-seizure warrant which forced the ministry to surrender the voluminous document.
According to the search warrant — which was granted by Harare provincial magistrate Nyasha Vitorini, a copy of which was seen by the Independent — police are investigating current and former senior managers at Zinara who were implicated in the audit report.
The investigation, coming at a time Zinara’s acting chief executive Moses Juma was recently jailed for an effective two years for corruption, follows a police report filed by PRAZ, formally known as the State Procurement Board.
Zinara management would circumvent the board in granting tenders despite the fact that it is the only legally recognised public procurement authority in the country, according to the audit report.
The CID has since assembled a team of investigators led by senior detective Claudius Majonga to probe the goings-on at the parastatal.
“The complainant is the state represented by the executive chairman of the State Procurement Board Buzwani Donald Mothobi. The accused persons are senior officials of the Zimbabwe National Roads Administration,” police stated in an application for the search warrant.
“In 2017, the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development commissioned a forensic audit on Zinara projects that were implemented through various road authorities countrywide. The (audit) report pointed out some delinquencies in the manner in which the contracts were awarded and managed, unearthing some financial prejudice to the state.”
“Preliminary investigations point to a trend in the award and management of the contracts that are suspected to be prejudicial to the state, prompting the matter to be reported to police for further investigations,” police said in an application dated October 9 2018.
Magistrate Vitorini granted the warrant of search-and-seizure on the same day after considering that information presented to the court provided reasonable grounds for believing that the Ministry of Transport was “in possession or control of documents in respect of the forensic audit report on Zinara projects”.
“It is therefore directed that the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to submit certified copies of a forensic audit report for a forensic audit on Zinara projects which was completed on July 5 2017. These are therefore, in the name to command you (police detectives) to proceed to the ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development and therefrom immediately obtain and take into your custody the above-mentioned documents and records and take them to a police station or other place of safety until the matter is finalised or until you further receive orders from the court,” a copy of the warrant reads.
A highly placed Ministry of Transport source told the Independent that the audit report was handed over to police on Wednesday this week in compliance with the court order.
“Yes, we were served with the search-and-seizure warrant and we have since handed over the document to police. We cannot be seen to interfere with the course of justice,” the source said.
Although police did not expressly name the managers targeted in the probe, some of the serving and former Zinara bosses implicated in the alleged looting spree include ex-CE Frank Chitukutuku, finance director Simon Taranhike, finance manager Shadreck Matengabadza, human resources director Precious Murove, administration manager Peter Bweterere and Juma.
In June last year, the quartet was arrested and appeared in court facing charges ranging from money laundering to violating tender procedures and embezzlement of funds amounting to US$300 000 in a “currency trading scheme” involving dodgy cash transfers but the charges were strangely withdrawn.