Nyore Madzianike Senior Court Reporter
THE State has called for a custodial sentence against convicted former Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Petronella Kagonye when the court sentences her today.
Kagonye was yesterday remanded in custody for sentencing after she was found guilty of stealing 20 laptops that were meant to benefit schools in her constituency in Goromonzi South, Mashonaland East province.
In convicting Kagonye, Harare regional magistrate Mrs Vongai Guwuriro said the former minister failed to account for the laptops donated to her in 2020 during the course of the trial.
Mrs Guwuriro also said Kagonye failed to outline in her defence how she accounted for the laptops that were donated by the then Minister of Information Communication and Technology, Postal and Courier Services, Supa Mandiwanzira, through the e-learning project.
“Her defence that she donated them to less privileged is a far-fetched argument that does not make any sense.
“It was in her mind to think they were for less privileged ones. She failed to account for other 17 and accounted for three, which does not tally with the explanation she gave in court.
“According to documentary evidence, 20 (laptops) were for two schools and they were left in the hands of accused for distribution.
“She sent the first begging bowl saying that she wanted to donate the laptops to schools and the court is in a quandary as to what makes the targeted beneficiaries to change,” said Mrs Guwuriro in her judgment.
Mrs Guwuriro also indicated that she was surprised to note that Kagonye was ignorant of the fact she was supposed to account for the laptops considering that they were bought using public funds.
The court said Kagonye was seized with the obligation to account for the laptops, which she totally ignored.
“The computers were being given under the e-learning programme and the ICT handover form indicated that the beneficiaries had to submit it after 30 days.
“The receiver had a duty to account for the laptops and provide the list to POTRAZ (Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe). To her (Kagonye), she said the laptops were to be given to the needy and was not actively involved in their distribution.
“She never insisted on the need to account for the beneficiaries and claiming that the obligation never existed. It appears that out of ignorance she never signed the handover form.
“The court does not believe that she does not know that she had the obligation to submit the names of beneficiaries to POTRAZ, an organisation that deals with public funds,” she said.
The State led by Mr Zivanai Macharaga, when presenting aggravating submissions, called for a custodial sentence saying by stealing public funds, Kagonye committed a serious offence.
“Accused is accused of stealing public funds which is a very serious offence and Zimbabwe’s ranking on corruption is very bad and the reputation of misappropriating public funds is very bad.
“These laptops were meant for rural schools in Goromonzi South where the poorest of the poor learn and she was responsible for social welfare.
“The people of Zimbabwe had entrusted the welfare of the poor into her hands and she was the last hope of the poor. She took advantage of that trust and stole from the poor. I have not seen, possibly in our society, that a minister responsible for the poor steals from the poor,” he said.
Through her lawyer Mr Rungano Mahuni, Kagonye begged for leniency saying she was a first offender and a breadwinner in her family.
Mr Mahuni insisted that Kagonye never stole the laptops in question saying they were donated to the intended beneficiaries.
In denying stealing the laptops, Kagonye said she ceased to be a minister of Government in 2018.
She said it was not true that POTRAZ or anyone from that department contacted her at her home and requested an explanation over the computers, which she failed to provide.
Circumstances leading to Kagonye’s arrest and subsequent conviction are that she wrote to then ICT Minister Mandiwanzira in 2018, who in turn wrote to POTRAZ asking that they facilitate a donation of computers through the e-learning project to schools in Goromonzi South Constituency.
Twenty computers were then donated and were collected by Kagonye’s brother, Evans, on her behalf.
Officials from POTRAZ made follow-ups on the donation and Kagonye failed to account for the computers leading to her arrest.