Coun­cil boss in centre of massive scan­dal com­mits sui­cide

Stanley Gutu

Chibhi had also met Zanu PF provincial leaders in Masvingo where he was allegedly quizzed about the corruption in Bikita.

Two senior exec­ut­ives at Bikita Rural Dis­trict Coun­cil (RDC) in Mas­vingo allegedly used a com­pany that they jointly-owned to siphon thou­sands of dol­lars from the local author­ity. However, one of the exec­ut­ives com­mit­ted sui­cide as the net was clos­ing in on them, invest­ig­a­tions have revealed.

Peter Chibhi (pictured), the local author­ity’s CEO, died in the early hours of Monday at the Mas­vingo Pro­vin­cial Hos­pital after allegedly tak­ing an unknown poison some days after return­ing from Har­are where he had appeared before a gov­ern­ment com­mit­tee that was invest­ig­at­ing him.

Chibhi had also met Zanu PF pro­vin­cial lead­ers in Mas­vingo where he was allegedly quizzed about the cor­rup­tion in Bikita.

The CEO’s death has been con­firmed by the Bikita RDC.

Chibhi allegedly set up Bikita Han­yanya Invest­ments (Pvt) Ltd with the coun­cil’s fin­ance dir­ector Never Mavhuna and the duo used their pos­i­tions in the local author­ity to award their ven­ture con­tracts worth mil­lions of dol­lars.

An invest­ig­a­tion by EnviroPress in part­ner­ship with the Inform­a­tion for Devel­op­ment Trust, a non-profit organ­isa­tion sup­port­ing invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism in Zim­b­abwe and south­ern Africa, that focused on the oper­a­tions of the com­pany and its own­er­ship struc­ture was at its tail end when the coun­cil boss died.

Insiders said Chibhi took the poison soon after return­ing from Har­are where he appeared before a com­mit­tee set up by the Local Gov­ern­ment and Pub­lic Works min­istry to invest­ig­ate alleged wide­spread cor­rup­tion at the Bikita RDC.

Doc­u­ments obtained by this pub­lic­a­tion and inter­views with dif­fer­ent people showed that the rot star­ted in early 2021 when the local author­ity made a res­ol­u­tion to form a com­pany to engage in vari­ous busi­ness activ­it­ies to sup­ple­ment the coun­cil’s income.

Such ini­ti­at­ives are allowed under Sec­tion 80 of the Rural Dis­trict Coun­cils Act, which states that “with the writ­ten approval of the min­is­ter, and sub­ject to such terms and con­di­tions as he may impose, a coun­cil may engage in any com­mer­cial, indus­trial, agri­cul­tural or other activ­ity for the pur­pose of rais­ing rev­enue for the coun­cil.”

However, insiders said Chibhi and Mavhuna went on to estab­lish Bikita Han­yanya Invest­ments (Pvt) Ltd without approval from the Local Gov­ern­ment min­istry before they star­ted influ­en­cing the award­ing of luc­rat­ive con­tracts to the ven­ture.

Mavhuna refused to com­ment on the mat­ter before Chibhi’s death and referred ques­tions to his boss.

“I am not at work these days and can­not com­ment on that mat­ter. The best per­son to help you is the CEO,” Mavhuna said.

Chibhi spoke to EnviroPress before the tra­gic events where he denied own­er­ship of the com­pany as he claimed that it was fully-owned by coun­cil.

But a copy of Bikita Han­yanya Invest­ments (Pvt) Ltd cer­ti­fic­ate of incor­por­a­tion lis­ted Chibhi and Mavhuna as the only dir­ect­ors, each with 50% shares in the com­pany.

The cer­ti­fic­ate shows that Bikita Han­yanya Invest­ments was incor­por­ated on May 12, 2021.

Coun­cil records show that within four months, the com­pany was already doing busi­ness with coun­cil after it was awar­ded a con­tract to enforce traffic by-laws, which included clamp­ing and tow­ing ser­vices at Nyika Growth Point.

“The exec­ut­ive officer fin­ance repor­ted that Bikita Han­yanya, a registered private lim­ited com­pany, man­aged to open a bank account with AFC (Bank),” read part of minutes of a Bikita RDC meet­ing held in March 2022.

“He went fur­ther and high­lighted that cur­rently the com­pany was enfor­cing traffic by-laws in the Growth Point since Octo­ber 2021.”

The shad­owy com­pany was awar­ded many other con­tracts, includ­ing man­age­ment of the Nyika Growth Point bus ter­minus, col­lec­tion of vendor levies, secur­ity ser­vices, clean­ing ser­vices, and man­age­ment of the local author­ity’s Pam­budzi Lodge, invest­ig­a­tions showed.

Chibhi at the time claimed that there was no need to put the con­tracts to tender before award­ing them to Bikita Han­yanya since it was an internal mat­ter.

“There is no need to advert­ise tenders because this is just coun­cil work being car­ried out by coun­cil using internal resources,” he said then.

“In fact, there are other out­stand­ing con­tracts in agro-forestry and quarry-min­ing that the com­pany should get as per coun­cil plans.”

Bikita RDC chair­per­son Thomas Mataga said he had never seen the com­pany’s cer­ti­fic­ate of incor­por­a­tion, but still insisted that it was owned by the local author­ity.

“From what I have been told, Bikita Han­yanya is owned by the coun­cil but there are issues which were raised about the com­pany and are being invest­ig­ated,” Mataga said.

It emerged dur­ing the invest­ig­a­tions by EnviroPress that the Local Gov­ern­ment min­istry was prob­ing the rela­tion­ship between Bikita Han­yanya and the RDC in Janu­ary.

The min­istry appoin­ted Mor­gen Hungwe to lead the com­mit­tee that is invest­ig­at­ing the alleged cor­rupt rela­tion­ship between the Bikita RDC and Bikita Han­yanya.

Hungwe’s let­ter of appoint­ment zer­oed in on the local author­ity’s alleged cor­rupt rela­tion­ship with Chibhi and Mavhuna’s com­pany.

“Fur­ther­more, coun­cil estab­lished Han­yanya Pvt Ltd without the min­is­terial approval,” read part of the let­ter dated Janu­ary 24, 2024 and signed by then act­ing Local Gov­ern­ment and Pub­lic Works min­is­ter Daniel Garwe.

“The local author­ity was accused of oper­at­ing the busi­ness entity in a dubi­ous man­ner.”

Hungwe’s com­mit­tee was ordered “to look into the income and expendit­ure of Bikita Han­yanya Invest­ments dat­ing back to 2021 when it star­ted doing busi­ness with coun­cil.”

Local Gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Win­ston Chitando said he will com­ment after the invest­ig­at­ing com­mit­tee had fin­ished its work.

“The issue of Bikita RDC is being looked into by an invest­ig­a­tion team, which was set-up by the min­istry,” Chitando said.

“I will only be able to provide more details when the com­mit­tee has presen­ted its find­ings.”

Mean­while, invest­ig­a­tions revealed that the min­istry held a meet­ing with mem­bers of the Bikita Busi­ness Asso­ci­ation on Janu­ary 22, 2024 where the Bikita Han­yanya issue was raised at a pub­lic forum for the first time.

The asso­ci­ation had writ­ten to the min­istry to register its oppos­i­tion to the coun­cil’s 2024 budget as it argued that the new tar­iffs were at vari­ance with what was agreed dur­ing con­sulta­tion pro­cesses.

Bikita Busi­ness Asso­ci­ation chair­per­son Charles Musimiki said the estab­lish­ment of Bikita Han­yanya Invest­ments was not trans­par­ent and its con­tracts with coun­cil were sus­pi­cious.

“Every­one was rais­ing ques­tions about how the com­pany was estab­lished, and how it was doing busi­ness with coun­cil,” Musimiki said.

“We were told it is a com­pany owned by the coun­cil, but has been registered in the names of Chibhi and Mavhuna. “How then can this be a coun­cil com­pany? Everything is shrouded in mys­tery.”

The Bikita Busi­ness Asso­ci­ation was formed by the busi­ness com­munity in and around Nyika Growth Point to engage in issues of mutual cooper­a­tion as well as to push for the ease of doing busi­ness.

Bikita Res­id­ents and Rate­pay­ers Asso­ci­ation spokes­per­son Luck­son Mukomon­dera said the set­ting up of Bikita Han­yanya was against good cor­por­ate gov­ernance.

“What Chibhi and Mavhuna did defeats rules of good cor­por­ate gov­ernance,” Mukomon­dera said.

“The coun­cil sug­ges­ted form­a­tion of a com­pany, but before we knew it, a private com­pany was formed and imposed on coun­cil without due pro­cess.

“No one was con­sul­ted and the Local Gov­ern­ment min­istry was not even aware of the exist­ence of the com­pany.

 “There is ser­i­ous con­flict of interest in how this com­pany is get­ting con­tracts and work­ing with coun­cil.”

Minutes of a coun­cil meet­ing held in May 2022, actu­ally refer to Bikita Han­yanya as a ‘private com­pany’, but do not shed light on the own­er­ship struc­ture. “The exec­ut­ive officer human resources and admin­is­tra­tion repor­ted that there was need for oper­a­tion­al­isa­tion of Bikita Han­yanya Invest­ments,” read part of the minutes.

“The com­mit­tee was reminded that the com­pany was estab­lished in 2021 and star­ted oper­a­tions with employ­ees enfor­cing the traffic bylaws in the growth point.

“She went fur­ther and high­lighted that as planned there was need to trans­fer employ­ees in the secur­ity ser­vices, clean­ing and income gen­er­at­ing projects.

“The com­mit­tee also agreed that the affected employ­ees should be given time to decide on whether to join the private com­pany and be given full coun­selling on the implic­a­tions of the imple­ment­a­tion of the res­ol­u­tion.”

The local author­ity is not new to scan­dals involving the abuse of funds.

In 2022, Bikita RDC took a loan of US$191 000 to buy Toyota GD6 single cab vehicles for six dir­ect­ors without min­is­terial approval.

Sec­tion 65(1) of the Pub­lic Fin­ance Man­age­ment Act (Chapter 22:19) restricts pub­lic entit­ies “from bor­row­ing money or issu­ing a guar­an­tee, indem­nity or secur­ity, or to enter into any other trans­ac­tion that binds or may bind the entity of the Con­sol­id­ated Rev­enue Fund to any future com­mit­ment, unless such bor­row­ing, guar­an­tee, indem­nity, or other trans­ac­tion is author­ised by the enact­ment which estab­lished or gov­erns it, so long however as the applic­able pro­vi­sions relat­ing to this Act are com­plied with.”

The exec­ut­ives received the vehicles from a loan facil­ity with African Cen­tury Lim­ited that was facil­it­ated by Chibhi, bind­ing the local author­ity to future fin­an­cial com­mit­ments.

At the time, coun­cil issued con­flict­ing state­ments about the arrange­ment with Chibhi say­ing the recip­i­ents of the cars will pay for them over five years.

On the other hand, the local author­ity’s then chair­man Ben­jamin Masakadza claimed exec­ut­ives would only pay half of the pur­chase price and the other half being paid by their employer.

Chibhi and the Bikita RDC’s six dir­ect­ors were sub­sequently arres­ted by the Zim­b­abwe Anti-Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion on alleg­a­tions that they had viol­ated the Pub­lic Fin­ance Man­age­ment Act, but the case did go far for unknown reas­ons.