Saturday, 23 October 2021

COUNCIL WORKER IN $1M COVID-19 SCAM

A SPATE of underhand dealings coupled with high level white collar crime by senior workers within the city of Bulawayo council ranks has cost the city a lot of potential revenue.

Since the start of the Covid-19 lockdowns last year, it has emerged that there are some employees who lined up their pockets by awarding tender contracts for Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to their cronies, by not following laid down procedures as explained in the Public Procurement Act.

It took a series of investigations by the State and council audit teams to unearth the “rot” that is deep seated in the local authority’s procurement division. In an exclusive by Sunday News recently, a confidential report revealed that the local authority’s procurement manager raised alarm on the disparities within the procurement procedure. It has since emerged that more individuals in the council’s procurement unit as well as a number of briefcase companies have since been identified in the alleged scam.

One senior worker has already appeared in court on allegations of abuse of duty as a public officer as defined in section 174(1) (a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9.23. The accused, Sikhangezile Mhlanga (65) of 448 Pityochryn, Killarney who is employed as a procurement specialist was arraigned at the Bulawayo Magistrates court on 11 October at the initial trial of the case.

As outlined in the State case, Mhlanga breached all procedures to give PPE tenders to companies outside the approved tender registry of the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ).

“Sikhangezile Mhlanga, as an acting procurement specialist at the Bulawayo City Council, her duties were to supervise the Procurement Management Unit (PMU) and supervise procurements as outlined in the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act Chapter 22: 23.

“The accused was expected to request from the Ministry of Health and Child Care for a list of framework agreement suppliers for the week beginning 31 May to 6 June 2020 as directed by PRAZ Circular 01 of 2020 and make orders from selected companies following laid down procedures and guided by PRAZ. The State allegations are that, on a date unknown to the prosecutor, but during the period extending from 26 May 2020 to 25 August 2021, the accused was tasked to procure Covid-19 Personal Protective Equipment, PPEs, for Bulawayo City Council using some funds which were donated by National Aids Council amounting to $1 000 000,” reads the State outline.

The outline reveals that Mhlanga unlawfully and intentionally awarded orders to Highway Africa (Private Limited), Horringer Trading (Private Limited) and Chemsub Supplies (Private Limited) for the supply of Covid-19 personal protective equipment. All these companies are not on the approved list of tender companies from the Ministry of Health and Child Care and PRAZ.

“Furthermore, the accused person abused her office by submitting two quotations instead of the standard three quotations from different companies and by so doing deviated from the procedure under section 34 of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act Chapter 22: 23 (requests and quotations). The accused person also effected a price increase adjustment without justification. The accused person acted unlawfully.”

Mhlanga was remanded out of custody and set to return to court on 4 November. Meanwhile, investigations by this publication have revealed that more alleged briefcase companies have been named in the scam with more council employees likely to be nabbed as investigations continue.

Two companies that have attracted further investigations are Privian International (Private, Limited) and Longitudinal Investments (Private Limited), with the former, which is registered for tools and hardware, electrical products and cleaning materials, with the company director revealing she had paid for Mhlanga’s child school fees.

“Privian International did not have any red flags of mis-procurement, however, we cannot rule out any fraudulent and collusive transactions given that the director of the company stated that with the coming in of Longitudinal Investments Mhlanga had taken most of their business to this company. Additionally, the said director claimed she had paid school fees for Mhlanga’s child who is learning outside the country in 2011,” reads a council confidential report.

Regarding Longitudinal Investments, it has been revealed that the company directors confessed that they have been involved in bid rigging although they did not mention which council employees were helping them achieve their fraudulent activity.

“Longitudinal Investments has been involved on more than 30 occasions in bid rigging using scanned, reproduced or original quotations of other companies and three associated companies- Rockfow, Zetrov Investment and Titanic Construction,” reads the report. Sunday News

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