Zvamaida Murwira Senior Reporter
THE United States, through its US Agency for International Development, poured close to a billion dollars into the NGO sector in pursuit of illegal regime change in the final stages of the ill-fated inclusive Government.
The revelations come as Western donors announced they were stopping availing money to anti-Government organisations in Zimbabwe after they failed to account for over $850 million extended by USAID as part of the illegal regime change agenda between 2011 and 2014.
The US and its allies were said to have been peeved by the fact that the civil society organisations had failed to prevent the massive Zanu-PF election victory in the July 31, 2013 harmonised elections despite having received massive financial support.
The so-called civil society organisations, most of them operating as affiliates of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, were supposed to conduct “civic education” using the money, but the donors have since discovered that no such programmes were undertaken.
Instead, the organisations’ directors are now accused of writing fake reports on the use of the money working in cahoots with some Zimbabweans at USAID, an arm of the US government tasked with disbursing the “dirty” money.
Sources said investigations were instituted after some board members and the management committee of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition raised concern on how the funds released under the US’ democracy and governance were being abused by directors and their friends.
“USAID Harare wrote to its head office in Washington DC about the need to investigate,” said the source. “An official only identified as Mr Twine was then dispatched to Harare with a brief to investigate corruption, funds abuse and bad corporate governance by the organisations.”
Mr Twine visited Zimbabwe from December 16 to 24 last year and met the management board of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.
“He also met the directors individually whom he asked questions on how much they earn, but they all failed to produce any minutes of meetings where their salaries were approved,” said the source. “They were also asked to reveal where they stay, statements of their bank accounts and the assets they own.”
The source said Mr Twine was shocked to discover that most of the people who work under affiliates of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition were either relatives or friends.
“Some of the directors were accused of working with advocacy and democracy officer at USAID Harare Washington Katema who would approve their fake budgets and then go on to demand 10 percent of the released funds,” said the source.
“Mr Twine discovered that Katema’s wife worked at Combined Harare Residents Association where one of the accused, Mufundo Mlilo, is director. Mlilo is also the spokesperson of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition management committee.
“It was also discovered that the director for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition McDonald Lewanika sits on the board of his organisation’s affiliate, Youth for Democracy in Zimbabwe which is led by Sydney Chasi. At the same time, Zimbabwe Human Rights Association director Mr Okay Machisa is the past chairperson of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.”
All these organisations, said the source, were being funded by the United States government through USAID and Mr Twine was said to have been shocked to discover that a lot of people were double dipping from the funding by holding posts in the different organisations.
A Zimbabwean, Mr Otto Saki, was recently pushed out of USAID to facilitate the investigations after it was discovered that he had a hand in the scandal.
“The forensic audit is going on,” said the source. “Remember that the USAID Office of the Inspector General reports to the US Congress and everyone is now aware of how their funds were abused.
“In Harare, the USAID officials are so angry that they are now excluding Zimbabweans working for them from meetings after they discovered that they were alerting their friends in the civic society organisations.
“Britain, Nertherlands, Denmark and other western countries have since stopped their funding after news of the abuse got its way to all the donors.”
There are more than 15 civil society organisations under investigation including the Zimbabwe Election Support Network led by Ms Rindai Chipfunde Vava, the Election Resource Centre led by Mr Tawanda Chimhini, Mr Mlilo’s CHRA, the Zimbabwe Peace Project led by Ms Jestina Mukoko and Mr Machisa’s Zimrights.
Bulawayo Agenda, the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association, Heal Zimbabwe led by Mr Rasheed Mahiya, Community Tolerance and Reconciliation Trust led by Gamuchirai Mukura, Zimbabwe Informal Sector Organisation led by Mr Promise Mkwananzi, Youth Agenda and Democracy led by Mr Tichaona Masiyambiri and Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights led by Mr Michael Mabwe are also under investigations.
A recent audit conducted by Baker Tily Gwatidzo chartered accountants unearthed several irregularities at Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition which included evasion of taxes, flouting of procurement procedures and failure to uphold donor reporting requirements.
The audit report triggered power struggles among board members of the organisation which saw the departure of chairperson Mr Dewa Mavhinga after clashing with other board members on whether or not to renew a contract for director Mr Lewanika.
When contacted, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesperson Mr Mlilo denied that they were under investigations.
“We are not under any investigation by USAID,” he said. “On the other audit you are referring to those are normal annual audits that any organisation carry to ensure good corporate governance.
“There are always audit findings, but what is important is that we had an unqualified audit, meaning our books were given a clean bill of health. Reports of bribes that you are making reference to are just hearsay.”
Mr Lewanika was under fire for going to Zambia last month as an election observer accompanied by Zimbabwe Organisation for Youths in Politics director Nkosilathi Moyo where they allegedly tried to coordinate the booing of President Mugabe during the inauguration of Zambian President Mr Edgar Lungu.
A US embassy senior official Ms Karen Kelly while denying the abuse of funds “with respect to USAID and the organisations with whom we work” acknowledged funding the US’ “partners” in Zimbabwe.
“USAID holds its partners to strict standards and requires periodic audits that allow us to ensure appropriate use of US government resources for the benefit of the people of Zimbabwe,” she said in a statement to The Herald.
“We take seriously allegations regarding misuse of USAID programmes and resources. The USAID Office of the Inspector General is an independent office responsible for investigating such claims.”