FORMER Energy and Power Development minister Samuel Undenge was yesterday convicted and sentenced to four years imprisonment for criminal abuse of office after he directed Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) to engage a public relations firm without following due process.
BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
Allegations were that Undenge in 2016 fraudulently awarded a contract to Fruitful Communications reportedly owned by television personality, Oscar Pambuka and Zanu PF Highfields West MP Psychology Maziwisa without going to tender, prejudicing the State of $12 650.
Undenge (62) will serve an effective two-and-half years jail term after Harare magistrate Hosea Mujaya suspended one-and-half years on condition of good behaviour.
In passing judgment, Mujaya ruled that the State proved a prima facie case against Undenge. He said Undenge’s defence submissions were irrelevant.
Mujaya cited accusations raised against State witness and Deputy Chief Secretary to the President, Ray Ndhlukula who had admitted to issuing a lucrative travel agency contract to Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s wife, Marry, without going to tender.
“The accused suggested that the allegations were malicious and believed that he was a perceived faction (member) of the G40 and was arrested during Operation Restore Legacy. My difficulty in accepting the accused defence is that the criminal law which applies to this case does not show any political connection,” Mujaya said.
“Allegations of Marry being given a tender without due processes are not before me. Fruitful Communications, Pambuka and Maziwisa are not before me. There is an Ndebele saying which says ‘the thief is the one who has been caught’.”
Mujaya ruled that Undenge knew ZPC was a public entity bound by the Procurement Act.
He said in any criminal procedure, any document with the signature should be evidence after a vigorous verification, but in this case Undenge accepted the ownership of the letter.
“Noah Gwariro (ZPC managing director) and Fadzai Chisveto (ZPC spokesperson) demanded proof from Pambuka and Maziwisa that they were, indeed, coming from the Office of the then Vice-President and current President Emerson Mnangagwa.
“But the two returned with a Undenge signed letter. The assertions that accused person was bitter of being tricked by Maziwisa and Pambuka is not a matter in this case. A reasonable person in this business world cannot work for a period of eight months for free. The accused was trying to run away from the case,” Mujaya ruled.
He asked why Pambuka and Maziwisa went back to the accused to complain and verify the blockage of payment of $36 000 if the two had agreed to work for free.
“ZPC followed the order of the minister. The fact that some ministers direct entities to award tenders without due processes is a barometer for most corrupt Cabinet ministers and needs to be stopped,” the magistrate said.
In mitigation, Undenge’s lawyer Alec Muchadehama asked the court to be lenient to his client as he was in the “afternoon” and four children who were in universities and needed his hand. “The media is awash with corrupt people, $15 billion has been missing and we don’t know who is protecting these thieves while my client is being persecuted.
The offence occurred by chance and he just found himself in the middle of the matter. My client benefited nothing, not even one bond which is worthless,” he said.
But in aggravation, the State represented by Jonathan Murombedzi argued Undenge’s moral blameworthiness was very high considering he was supervising an anti-corruption crusade.
Mujaya said Undenge’s corruption was just a pointer of what is happening in the country, adding the fact was that Pambuka and Mazivisa might be the ex-minister’s accomplices.