Top officials cornered in US$9m UCPF probe

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Melody Chikono

AN investigation into the abuse of over US$8,7 million at the Unified Council Pension Fund (UCPF) has claimed the scalp of fund manager Benjamin Chiyangwa, while four others have voluntarily stepped down pending the conclusion of investigations, businessdigest has learnt.

Six employees were suspended by the Insurance and Pensions Commission (Ipec) in February 2018 to allow investigations into allegations of the abuse-of-office.

After Brian Rusere (finance officer), Peter Chiyangwa (benefits officer), Beular Musanhi (personal assistant) and Martha Kunaka (Bulawayo branch manager) resigned, Masceline Mbukwa and Chiyangwa were probed over alleged abuse of the pension funds, among other charges. Mbukwa is contesting the case against her.

In a letter of dismissal to Benjamin Chiyangwa gleaned by businessdigest, the board chairperson Cletus Matingwina said the decision to fire him was unanimous.

“Following the hearing which was done and subsequent verdict passed by the disciplinary authority, the board of trustees in terms of the Unified Councils Pension Fund Code of Conduct of 2007 unanimously passed a resolution to dismiss you from employment with effect from date of suspension (July 27, 2018) as you were found guilty of violating clauses 7.10, 7.46, 7.47, 7.67 and 7.5,” Mutingwina said. The charges against Benjamin Chiyangwa included incompetence, serious abuse of office, invasion of corporate governance in remittance of tax, altering policies without authority. He was found guilty of all the charges.

Some of Benjamin Chiyangwa’s actions resulted in the UCPF being penalised more than US$200 000 by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in tax evasion penalties. The pension fund will recover some of the misappropriated money from the terminal benefits of the former employees implicated in the scandal.

“I cannot say the figures off-hand but what I know is that while some of the figures were contested, we decided that we will recover our money from each individual. The least is owing around US$5 000, while the highest is around US$200 000,” Matingwina said this week.

Rusere, Peter Chiyangwa, Musanhi and Kunaka, were implicated in the case that saw over US$8 million in board allowances, sitting fees and staff salaries being blown over a seven-year period.

A probe into the UCPF’s operations early last year unearthed massive abuse of funds amid evidence the board pocketed US$8,7 million in allowances, sitting fees and staff salaries between 2010 and December 2017 at a time the fund was failing to honour members’ pension obligations.

Their resignation letters show that Peter Chiyangwa and Rusere cited economic hardships and the search for greener pastures as their reasons for resigning while Musanhi said her husband had gotten a job in Nairobi and she had to tag along.

Kunaka said she was resigning due to personal circumstances.

After the resignations, Matingwina told businessdigest that the four had been attending a series of hearings since their suspension until September when they tendered in resignation letters which the board accepted.

He said the fund’s legal representative had assured them that the verdict on the six accused would be delivered this week.

During his time, Benjamin Chiyangwa would recommend the trustees’ monthly allowance adjustments, a situation that resulted in conflict of interest and a near-collusive relationship that compromised the board’s effectiveness in exercising its supervisory and monitoring role over the fund.

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