“DEMLOOT” Bigwigs Loot Cyclone Idai Donations: Auditor General

This happened at thousands of ordinary and poor people’s greatest hour of need.
HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government failed to transparently disburse and account for US$4.5 million in donations, with only less than 1% of the funds being used for their intended purpose while people died in the midst of the devastating Cyclone Idai in 2019, an official audit has revealed.
At a time when people’s lives had been disrupted beyond measure and the cyclone death toll was fast rising, government was unwilling or unable to use the money for its intended purpose and distribute relief, raising questions of competency and corruption.
Donated goods were also not being distributed with the required urgency and efficiency.
This led to under-utilisation, misuse or simply looting of the donations. To dramatise government’s ineptitude and gross mismanagement, some of the goods expired or were left to rot while people went hungry and were exposed to harsh weather conditions.
Revelations of government’s horrific accountability and transparency failures – which reflect deep-seated and underlying structural governance problems – point to gross incompetence, abuse or looting of donations at a time people were dying from the devastating weather impact.
Cyclone Idai struck Zimbabwe in March 2019, leaving in its wake a trail of devastation, death and mayhem in the eastern highlands, particularly in Chimanimani and Chipinge.
At least 347 people were killed, while 344 others went missing. More than 50 000 were left homeless.
The cyclone ravaged through Southern Africa killing over 1 000 people in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi. Hundreds of thousands were displaced.
As a result, Mnangagwa declared the cyclone a national disaster on 15 March 2019. Government and donors immediately swung into action with various rescue missions to mitigate disruption of lives and suffering.
However, there were subsequent stories and concerns that the aid was being politicised, diverted and looted by corrupt ruling Zanu PF and government officials always hunting to make political capital even on dead bodies.
These grave concerns were also recently shared privately by South African government officials after International relations minister Naledi Pandor recently flew to Harare to deliver some of donations which had been promised.
South Africa delivered more than 5 000 tonnes of maize. Pandor handed over the consignment to victims of Cyclone Idai. She said the outbreak of the Covid-19 delayed the delivery, which will now to be completed by September.
South Africa, through the African Renaissance and International Cooperation Fund, pledged R50 million in humanitarian support. The assistance consists 450 000 bags of 12,5kg maize meal earmarked for distribution to victims of the cyclone.
However, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government officials told The NewHawks they feared the donations could be stolen, worries similarly shared by many Zimbabweans.
People’s worst fears have now been confirmed by a special audit report by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri on the Disaster Preparedness and Distribution of Cyclone Idai Donations in Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces tabled in parliament recently.
The audit reveals reluctant to use the money for its intended purpose, abuse of goods, fuel and failure to account for donations as well as criminal lethargy on the part of the government, resulting in some goods expiring or rotting.
The funds were donated through the National Disaster Fund in the Ministry of Finance.
“I noted with concern that there was inadequate coordination and liaison between the ministries of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing and Finance and Economic Development, resulting in the slow release of donated funds. The financial assistance that was received through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development was ZW$1 972 758, USD 3 033 449 and 20 000 000 Rands (US$1 420 571 at the time),” Chiri says in the audit report.
“For example, Manicaland Province was in need of RTGS$15 000 000 as reflected in their report dated June 3, 2019. As at August 30, 2019 they had received only RTGS$5 160 000 through CPU (Civil Protection Unit) Head office giving a total of RTGS$9 542 090 received for Cyclone Idai activities. Also, interviews with various sub-committees reflected that financial challenges were a major hindrance to the progress of works  in their departments.
“Funds under the National Disaster Fund created to receive donations for Cyclone Idai had not been utilised as at July 17, 2019. I could not ascertain whether requests outlining the specific use of the funds by the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing had been lodged at the Ministry of Finance.”
As of 17 July 2019 – four months after the cyclone – only less than 1% of the donated funds had been utilised for relief.
This raised questions on where the other money was and whether it would be used for the intended purposes.
Out of the US$3 033 449 donated by well-wishers, who included companies and individuals both in Zimbabwe and abroad, only US$261 188 or 0.08% had been used.
A total of R20 000 000 was donated, but as of 17 July 2019, nothing had been used, meaning 0% delivery.
From ZW$1 793 395, only ZW179 363 or 0.09% of it was used.
“The objective for which the funds were donated may not be achieved,” Chiri says.
The Auditor-General also observed that “no proper records for relief items received and disbursed were maintained” from the time they left Manyame Air Force Base to the affected provinces, raising the risk that donations “may be misappropriated”.
“There was no uniformity in accounting for donations from Manyame Airbase to Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces as there were no detailed dispatch documents and receiving registers for audit trail. Only a list of donated items was submitted for audit,” Chiri says.
“Furthermore, there were no full descriptions of items such as the quantities or units received in order to determine the total quantities/volumes.
“I was therefore not able to match the items received and dispatched to the districts and from the districts to the distribution centres and beneficiaries.”
As a result, Chiri observes “accountability and transparency was compromised”. This means she was unable to trace the donations. In other words, government was unable to account for the aid.
The damning report further highlights that the channelling of funds on to relevant authorities for relief activities was chaotic and hampered by excessive red tape as some departments were getting allocated funds more than a month after requisition.
“I noted with concern the movement of funds between Treasury, CPU (Civil Protection Unit) and the implementing agencies. Firstly, there was no clear understanding amongst the Provincial Civil Protection Committee (PCPC) why some implementing agencies were receiving funds directly from Treasury or CPU head office,” she says.
“This prolonged the processes as the procurement process would be done, for instance at Public Works then goes to MoPSE (Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education)/Health for authorisation before it can be processed at the PDC office.
“From interviews with sub-committees there was no communication between the PCPC and respective sub-committees on what was released and how much the departments had expended. For instance, the Provincial Information Office Manicaland had been allocated RTGS$460 000 on July 10 2019, however as at August 30 2019 they had not accessed the funds.”
Chiri’s report further reveals gross mismanagement of donations, with goods exceeding 30 tonnes allowed go to waste despite the urgent need for foodstuffs by starving communities.
“During a stock count exercise on September 14, 2019, I observed that a total of 33 403kg of goods at Machongwe Forward Distribution Centre had expired. Furthermore, the food items were exposed to high levels of moisture as they were stored on the floor without pallets. The goods expired while in stock,” she says.
“On the other hand, Chipinge District Civil Protection Committee also received expired food items from the province which they later destroyed on August 21 2019. I was concerned that the relief items expired, whilst in the warehouse before being distributed to the affected people. It was also revealed from interviews held at the camps that beneficiaries had received expired mealie meal and flour on various occasions.”
Chiri also sheds light on irregularities, including the abuse and possible looting of fuel.
“From the analysis of information provided, some vehicles travelled as low as 1.3 kilometres with a litre of fuel. In addition, some drivers did not indicate the fuel drawn on their log sheets, hence I could not determine the fuel consumed by those vehicles.
“Also, requests for diesel amounting to 2 191 litres were issued from the Manicaland Provincial Development Coordinator’s office authorising various vehicles to draw fuel from CMED (Central Mechanical Equipment Department), without information such as estimated mileage that the vehicle was supposed to travel, vehicle registration number, destination and request number,” her report says.

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