By Byron Mutingwende
Corruption at Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) reads like a script from a Hollywood movie yet that organisation is expected to promote accountability and good governance. There had been numerous reports of graft at that institution but no one ever had the opportunity to fully understand the goings on until I personally took it upon myself to be a part of the system.
I was initially introduced to investigative journalism by the Joint Investigative Reporting Initiative (JIRI) around 2012, which was run in partnership with the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC). Currently, I am a member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN).
I learnt a lot of skills on investigative journalism. It appeared that most journalists depended on financial statements and other documents published by organisations for them to reveal corruption at the companies, both public and private.
For me, there is an old adage that says, “If you can’t defeat them, join them.” That is exactly the route I undertook in order to get to the bottom of the alleged corruption at TIZ.
I had always heard through rumours that getting work at TIZ was an uphill task. There were rumours that Annatolia Chimunye, the most senior employee who joined the organisation soon after its inception in 1996 was a mastermind of nepotism, cronyism and tribalism. Chimunye has since risen to the position of Administration and Finance Manager for TIZ.
Maybe for a lack of requisite qualifications, Mary-Jane Ncube – who joined TIZ a few years later, overtook Chimunye as Executive Director. Chimunye remained the most senior employee and still commands great respect from Transparency International Secretariat in Germany.
The few examples of the employees who hold Chimunye in high esteem from the Transparency International Headquarters include Attila Miklos Mong and Annette Kleinbrod.
I came to know about the two employees from Transparency International Secretariat in Germany when the two attempted to engage me to do a documentary on one Garamukanwa, a farmer whose land was forcibly taken from him to pave way for mining. Alas, due to nepotism rampant at TIZ, I was dropped midway the conversation.
One Danai Mabuto-Kudya who works in the Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) unit of TIZ, was immediately advised by Chimunye to drop me for Ben Mahaka, who happens to be closely related to Shone Farai Mutondoro, TIZ Harare Regional Coordinator.
Let me take my readers back to how I came to consult for TIZ. The Communication Officer for TIZ up to 2014 was one Cheryl Khupe, who is now a Communication Officer at the World Bank, Harare Office.
Khupe, together with one Nyaradzo Mutonhori who is currently a Programmes Officer at the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association had crossed their paths with Mary Jane Ncube and Annatolia Chimunye over personal differences. The two TIZ managers reportedly demanded exclusive treatment which Khupe and Mutonhori denied. Ncube in connivance with Chimunye, simply fired Khupe and Mutonhori because ‘their working relationship with them had irrevocably broken down.”
Ncube and Chimunye are notorious for firing their employees willy-nilly, most of the time in an unprofessional and uncouth manner. It was at one of the press conferences by Transparency International Zimbabwe in the Quill Club at New Ambassador Hotel that I approached Mary Jane Ncube with a view to consulting for them in communication and information.
Ncube agreed that indeed there was need for a communication consultant but that would be on voluntary basis. I agreed to work for the organisation for free because on my mind, I knew I was on a personal undercover investigative mission to reveal the perceived rot at the institution.
Nyasha Frank Mpahlo, the Community Mobilisation and Advocacy (CMA) Team Leader and Danai Maboto (ALAC Team Leader) are the first people whom I engaged in programming during field visits.
That’s when I witnessed first-hand, incidents of corruption by the programme officers of those two units. Among the places that I accompanied the officers on field-work are Hopley, Epworth and Kambuzuma.
They bought refreshments, ostensibly to feed many people during the meetings (say for 75 to 100) people yet most of the time, only 15 to 20 people would turn up for the meetings. The rest of the refreshments would be given to people passing by near the venue. The rationale behind buying more food is to paint a picture that there will be many attendees so that the officers would inflate the number of field cash received forms.
In addition to that, the officers would charge venue fees of between $20 to $50 even when such meetings were held at council offices or church buildings for free.
When I came back from the field tours, I would then write reports. The articles were meant to be published on a TIZ website but, alas, there were people engaged by Annatolia Chimunye (her close associates) who worked on the so-called website for close to a year.
I would post the articles on the website and in no time the articles would disappear, purportedly because the website required more attention. All the while, those engaged to do such work would be paid huge sums of money. To a layman’s eye, the website rehabilitation was meant to be a vehicle through which TIZ communication would be broadcasted to the masses yet it was a feeding trough for Annatolia Chimunye’s cronies.
From 2015, the website was only up in 2016. As if that was not enough, Chimunye also commissioned the rehabilitation of a TIZ dashboard. In similar fashion, it took more than six moths for the dashboard to be up and running.
For the whole year running, I was working as a volunteer until the TIZ Board, led by Loughty Dube, who is the Executive Director of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, decided to give me an honorarium for the work I was doing in making the organisation visible through writing articles for the website, writing press releases and press statements among other duties. The honorarium averaged just $300 per month. The Board felt that there was a need to promote me into a full-time Communication Officer but Mary-Jane and Annatolia Chimunye felt otherwise. Up to date, TIZ does not have a Communication Officer.
Readers may want to know why. Communication is a feeding trough for the TIZ Secretariat. Annatolia Chimunye is the Manager of Songs of Calvary, a musical group led by his cousin, Sean Innocent Ukomba who works for Printworks Printing Company as a Designer. There is money in the production of information, education and communication (IEC) materials. So Ukomba, together with his colleague and musical band member, Happy Mare, do all the designing for TIZ: from printing and designing fliers for the units, T-shirts, caps, banners and also run the production of such materials at very high costs. Songs of Calvary won the Permican Awards run by the United Family International Church (UFIC). As the Editor of Spiked Zimbabwe Online, I ran the article that praised the group on my website but after careful consideration, Chimunye and Ukomba told me to take the story down from the website because it had the potential to expose their vested interests elsewhere beyond professionalism.
Shone Farai Mutondoro openly told me that if I was given the opportunity to decide who was best to do documentaries as a Communication Consultant, it would have disenfranchised him since he had decided to hire his cousin, Ben Mahaka to do that job. That was after I had supplied Mutondoro with samples of award winning documentary producers namely Abel Dzobo and Donald Mabido. Mutondoro settled for Mahaka whom he took to Chisumbanje and Chinyamukwakwa where they shot a documentary on Land Corruption in the Chisumbanje Ethanol Project with the assistance of Claris Madhuku from the Platform for Youth Development (PYD). The documentary cost very good money and it came out well because PYD members whose land was forcibly taken were promised some financial benefits after saying out their experiences behind the camera freely.
That takes me to Arlington – a suburb near Harare International Airport that was destroyed after President Mugabe had described that settlement as an eyesore. Mahaka and Mutondoro promised the victims handsome compensation if they were free to appear in the documentary for voicing their concern against government cruelty. The victims of the land demolitions spoke their minds freely in the documentary but got the shock of their lifetime when they later visited TIZ offices for compensation. No compensation came their way save for transport re-imbursements. In journalism that is very unethical to promise interviewees money but at this stage I will forgive Mutondoro and Mahaka because they never went to a journalism school. I would have directed the victims to the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) for redress but Loughty Dube as the Chairperson of TIZ would not have handled the matter fairly and ethically since he is the VMCZ Executive Director. Mutondoro went on to win an award for Transparency International’s Best Documentary and Article on Land Corruption in Africa that at a colourful event held in Nairobi, Kenya, albeit through very corrupt means.
To widen the revenue base for her cronies, Annatolia Chimunye tasked Sean Innocent Ukomba and Happy Mare to run the social media sites for TIZ. The two guys are responsible for running TIZ’s Twitter and Facebook accounts in exchange for huge sums of allowances every month. On Facebook they have less than 3000 generic followers and the rest are sponsored members. The TIZ Twitter account has a pathetically low number of followers on the social media sites. There are sadly no lively conversations about corruption on TIZ social media sites, yet Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranks Zimbabwe as among the worst performers in combating corruption.
My heart bleeds at the level of insensitivity displayed by TIZ. On radio, TV and other media platforms, TIZ says it has pro-poor policies aimed at addressing corruption at the grassroots but events on the ground point to the contrary.
Day in, day out, TIZ receives reports about corruption in the communities that is meted against the poor. One such case is that of an Epworth woman whose child was allegedly poisoned at school. The autopsy results showed poisoning but since 2012, Harare Hospital authorities have not given the results. The woman frequents TIZ offices for recourse against the police who handled the matter corruptly and the school authorities allegedly poisoned her child who was doing Form Four at the time of her death, but no tangible result has been delivered. To date
That also applies to the former workers of Freda Rebecca Mine who were not paid their dues on retirement and were evicted from their dwellings despite fully paying for the houses through that company’s housing scheme. TIZ has sadly not bothered to address that matter. That is despite the fact that TIZ recently hosted a public interest litigation seminar where local lawyers were trained on how to handle matters of corruption that affect a wider cross-section of society and has a fund set aside to pay for the legal services.
TIZ readily funds registered organisations at the expense of the poor who rightly deserve assistance. A number of individual vendors whose wares were corruptly taken by council officials bring their cases for TIZ’s attention.
However, TIZ chooses to fund the activities of registered organisations like the National Vendors Union of Zimbabwe, Tajamuka, National Informal Economy Network and the Chitungwiza Resident Trust, among others.
Poor vendors and residents of Harare expressed their dismay when TIZ bought more than 300 flags and refreshments for the people in support of the founder of the founder of #ThisFlag Movement when he was arrested during the “Shut Down Zimbabwe” protests last year. They cited that TIZ was being elitist in its anti-corruption strategies.
Regrettably, TIZ’s public approval rating is at its lowest ebb because of such known shenanigans.
TIZ has exported corruption to the rural areas of Mbire through its Reduction in Emissions from Deforestation and Forestry Degradation in developing countries (REDD+) In Project that was funded by the European Union in Zimbabwe.
REDD+ generally refers to incentive payments for avoided deforestation and degradation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of carbon stocks on national level. Thus, REDD+ is more than climate issue but covers issues that impact the people, livelihoods and biodiversity.
TIZ is coordinating the implementation of the REDD+ project in the Mbire and Binga districts. Contained in the Kyoto Protocol, the REDD+ programme affords owners of forests under threat from degradation and deforestation to generate carbon that they will sequester and store in their forest if it is not degraded. The carbon contains a monetary value, which can be auctioned on a voluntary carbon market (VCM) or compliance carbon market (CCM) and stands to offer various developmental possibilities in support of local communities.
What makes the REDD+ programme peculiar to Transparency International Zimbabwe is the corruption risk associated with its implementation. Therefore, by operation in the quoted environment, the REDD+ facility becomes susceptible to corruption, a pivotal factor in the economy of forest use and deforestation.
The REDD+ Project by Carbon Green Africa is at the initial implementation stage, so the European Union funded TIZ to cover the corruption gaps which exist so as to ensure an accountable and transparent REDD+ frameworks.
Corruption therefore plays an important role in determining who benefits from the REDD+ revenue and how revenues are used. Thus, it is therefore important for a transparent state or community forest revenue management system to be put in place. This is bound to mitigate embezzlement of forest revenue funds by public officials, unfair declaration of carbon finds by carbon investors and unfair distribution of revenue generated from forest related activities.
Four major corruption risks affect the REDD+ implementation in Zimbabwe. These are the complex nature of contracts between Carbon investors and Rural District Councils in REDD+ protected areas (in this case Mbire and Binga); lack of information dissemination mechanism on REDD+ to indigenous communities; poor community engagement and consultation in REDD+ implementation and the absence of existing National REDD+ Policy to guide procedures and provide safeguards of local stakeholders involved in carbon trading.
Nyasha Frank Mpahlo, the Programme Officer in charge of the REDD+ Project by TIZ took advantage of the naivety and desperate financial situation of the Mbire Rural District Council to embezzle money.
Mpahlo works in cahoots with the officer in charge of the environment section of the Mbire Rural District Council (who has the database of the names of villagers working with Carbon Green Africa) for him to get their names and national identity numbers so as to get their transport allowances for attending meetings even though most of them would be absent at the so-called engagement meetings.
I discovered that rot when I had the opportunity to go to Mbire to train villagers on REDD+ safeguards while Mpahlo was in the United States of America for a Community Solutions Fellowship. That is the first time we managed to engage a representative from Carbon Green Africa on inclusive ways of managing REDD+ revenues. In the past, Mpahlo had not afforded the implementers the opportunity for engagement.
Each time TIZ Officers visit the Mbire REDD+ Projects, they are each given in excess of $300 allowance ostensibly to cover for their food, incidentals and accommodation. The officers would allegedly be staying at lodges owned by the Lower Guruve Development Association (LGDA). However, I discovered that LGDA is disenfranchised since the officers will be accommodated at a house owned by the Forestry Commission. On return to the TIZ office, the officers produce LGDA receipts for accommodation. In the process, TIZ and LGDA will lose money because a secretary at LGDA produces fake receipts with TIZ logos for accommodation in exchange for a tip.
I notified the board chairperson of TIZ, Loughty Dube about such cases of corruption two weeks before writing these revelations. Instead of instituting investigations into such evidence that I freely provided, Dube threatened to expose me for violating ethics since I was a recipient of a TIZ monthly honorarium.
He went on to accuse me of working for the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). In shock, I explained to chairman Dube that what I did was in pursuit of transparency and accountability. Dube said he would have none of it since by exposing TIZ’s funding to the organisations cited above, it would appear as if TIZ would be working for a regime change agenda – an accusation that the Zanu (PF) government often levels against civil society organisations. I pointed to Chairman Dube that accountability and transparency entailed making known to the public how organisations spend their money. If I am wrong in my assumption, I stand to be corrected.
TIZ runs full page, full colour adverts in newspapers or sponsor three-minute adverts or more, on both radio and television, each time public officials or institutions like the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission (ZACC) are implicated in corruption. I then wonder why the TIZ Chairman, Loughty Dube is crying foul when I help him with information to investigate corruption at the institution that he is in charge of.
What I got in return for highlighting the corruption at TIZ was an immediate sacking from my job as a Communication Consultant. There are further threats by the perceived paragons of the anti-corruption drive to try and influence my would-be future employers not to give me work because I have ruffled the feathers of the TIZ Board and Senior Management since they are my referees on my Curriculum Vitae because they are my current employers.
I would not mind the dire consequences that may arise from such threats because my conscience is clear: if I choose to be silent and cover up corruption by those who fight it, who else would do it? Who will police the police? Corruption will remain embedded in our Zimbabwean culture unless and until we act and I have taken my first step. I believe in the saying: United, we win, divided in our fight against corruption we fail. For now, I thank you.