One of the top officials in the fight against Covid-19, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Portia Manangazira, allegedly criminally abused aid funds by hiring 28 relatives as community health workers, paying facilitation fees to undeserving ministry staff, and flouting tender rules when she bought US$280 529 of goods and services.
She also allegedly illegally diverted diesel coupons for 3 290 litres to private vehicles.
Appearing in Harare Magistrates Court yesterday soon after her arrest on four counts of criminal abuse of duty as a public officer, she was remanded in custody by deputy chief magistrate Mrs Bianca Makwande until this afternoon when her application for bail, opposed by the State, will be considered.
At the heart of the charges is the use made of US$796 675 availed by the Africa Centre for Disease Control through a non-governmental organisation, the African Field Epidemiology Network, as a result of a request from Manangazira’s department for funds to recruit, train and deploy 800 community health workers to undertake a Covid-19 awareness programme.
Manangazira is accused of buying US$295 529 of goods and services between July 16 last year and January 21 this year without following tender procedures. She allegedly recommended payment between July 23 and November 1 last year of facilitation fees amounting to US$8 835 to undeserving employees in the ministry.
And between July last year and last month she allegedly identified about 1 000 health community workers, including 28 of her own relatives, who were all paid US$600 each over three months, without engaging either district or provincial medical officers. The workers were supposed to be drawn from across key religious, traditional, cultural and geographical groups in Covid-19 hotspots.
The State led by Mr Lancelot Mutsokoti and Mr Ephraim Zinyandu opposed granting of bail to Manangazira saying she was a flight risk and was likely to interfere with witnesses and investigations and called the investigating officer in the matter, Detective Sergeant Richard Machinya to testify.
“Investigations revealed that she recruited 28 members of her family to train as community health workers. If released on bail, she is likely to interfere with witnesses and investigations since some of them are executives who work with her.
“We have a list of workers from the ministry who were given facilitation fees,” he said.
Detective Sergeant Machinya told the court that Manangazira was likely to flee from the court’s jurisdiction adding that police were waiting for more evidence from an audit report which would strengthen their case.
Manangazira, through her lawyer Mr Harrison Nkomo, told the court that she was a proper candidate for bail whose application was supposed to be weighed against her own conduct.
“The accused took herself to the police and that conduct alone is not consistent with someone who would abscond. She is a high ranking civil servant who earns $110 000 and owning 43 hectares of land where there is farming. She is prepared to pay $15 000 as bail,” said Mr Nkomo.