Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Mutare Bureau
A long meandering queue, children playing soccer, women chit-chatting, and groups of teen boys and men milling around welcome visitors to Chimanimani High School.
The school is one of the centres where Cyclone Idai victims are housed and receive food aid, clothing, blankets among others
It is a hive of activity.
Cars with different logos from the United Nations, Government, other non-governmental organisations, corporates, churches, etc, drive in and out of the school as they assess the programmes they have put in place.
Thousands of tonnes of food and non-food items have been donated by individuals, companies, organisations and countries from Africa and around the world.
As those affected by Cyclone Idai go about what has become their daily routines, a lorry carrying sacks of clothes makes a turn into the school.
Most immediately stop what they are doing and run towards the lorry to join the queue as its contents are offloaded. Moments later, distribution begins.
Cyclone Idai victims have to quickly pick from a pile and give others a chance. Sometimes they pick clothes they cannot fit or of another sex.
Most after picking start to look for someone who needs a swap.
It is such a manner of distributing aid to Cyclone Idai victims that has left some loopholes for some heartless people to steal.
From day one, President Mnangagwa has been clear that everyone who is caught stealing Cyclone Idai donations will be dealt with mercilessly.
He has made it clear that he will have no mercy on people who divert items donated by well-wishers for personal use and he called for lengthy jail terms for perpetrators.
A month after the disaster struck, as Manicaland is still trying to restore normalcy to the lives of the people in Chimanimani and Chipinge, corruption has started rearing its ugly head.
In the past two weeks, two people have been caught trying to steal donations that were destined to feed thousands of people who lost everything in Chimanimani and Chipinge.
The two — a deputy director in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development and a police officer — are accused of stealing food and non-food items valued at more than $13 000.
Constable Edward Dhumukwa (32), who was stationed at Silverstream, has since been granted $200 bail by a Rusape magistrate. He allegedly stole an assortment of goods and loaded them into a Harare-bound bus and was arrested in Rusape after police received a tip-off that he was ferrying stolen goods.
Christine Chideme, a ministry official who was heading the team of social workers at Silver Streams, was also caught with an assortment of goods worth $3 000 on her way to Chipinge. She has also been arraigned before the courts.
The Saturday Herald last week visited Cyclone Idai food distribution centres in Chimanimani to ascertain how aid has been handled from the point it leaves the provincial warehouses to the point it reaches the people.
In the aftermath of the cyclone, the Provincial Civil Protection Department created a forward distribution centre at Silverstream to ensure that food was airlifted into Chimanimani and parts of Chipinge that had been cut off with no access through the road network.
After a week, road access into Chimanimani began to clear, allowing small 4×4 vehicles to pass through the detour roads and makeshift bridges that had been constructed.
This called for the Chimanimani District Civil Protection Department to create more distribution points at Skyline, Machongwe, Copa, Chimanimani High School and a warehouse near Chimanimani Club to ensure food got as close as was possible to the people.
According to various sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, the high volumes of humanitarian aid delivered to Silverstream distribution centre may have opened up opportunities for officials who were handling the aid to abuse some of the donations.
“For almost two weeks, Silverstream had plenty of items sitting there waiting to be transported to areas that needed it and the helicopters could not carry the stuff out of there quickly enough. This might be why that centre was used by mischievous people to divert some of the donations,” said one official.
These sentiments were echoed by Chimanimani District Civil Protection Department chairperson Mr Lloyd Kasima, who said Silverstream had received plenty of items that had not been immediately forwarded to the various areas due to inaccessibility by road.
“When the cyclone hit us, everything was treated as an emergency including the distribution of food to affected areas. As a district, we were not involved in any of the processes as we were isolated here. The province established two forward distribution centres at Mashonjowa Primary School and at Silverstream to ensure that food reached the communities. Our role as the district was to communicate with them through the telephone to notify them of the areas that they needed to drop food using the helicopters,” he said.
“One of the issues that caused donations to overflow at Silverstream was the mode of transport to the people. The helicopters could not carry much, only half a tonne, but now we have opened up almost 85 percent of our road network and things are coming directly to the various distribution centres. Maybe people took advantage of it being an emergency to divert those items. We might be working as a team but our agendas are different.”
However, he said some of the incidents of corruption were being spread on social media and the CPU was investigating all to see if there was any truth to it.
“Some are coming from the social media and we try to investigate but we cannot dispute that social media tends to exaggerate the magnitude of the problem, but we are not denying that there are some cases here and there. We have those two that have appeared in court so far,” he said.
There have been reports that there were some NGOs that had been going directly to the communities to distribute food.
Some of the NGOs have, however, had to go back and engage the CPU after they failed to control the crowds waiting eagerly to receive food.
Mr Kasima confirmed this development but said they had since engaged most of the organisations and they were now working together.
“When we are in disaster mode, we have a lot of people who say they want to help. Some follow protocol and some do not but all those whom you find just coming into the communities without our consent, we have been engaging them so that they include us and we direct them to were the need is. If they just come they might cause duplication of services in some areas,” said Mr Kasima.
“We have taken some of them on board and we shared the load but we emphasised that our family basket must be the same. We expect them to complement our efforts.”
The Red Cross, which has been coordinating donations from various organisations, said it has been working with the district CPU. The organisation has been helping with the pitching up of tents delivered from the United Arab Emirates as well as other donations.
Zimbabwe Red Cross communications manager Mr Stambuli Kim said all donated items were recorded upon receipt and were being distributed to the communities on the district CPU’s list of beneficiaries.
“As Red Cross we do distribution directly through our volunteer network but all this is done and coordination through DA’s Office. Donors, potential donors or local NGOs in the field are part of the distribution network, hence there is no room for manipulating or politicising aid. In Chipinge and Chimanimani, there are daily multi-stakeholder updates on the process. This is an opportunity to make sure all goes according to the agreed distribution plans. There is a clear audit trail from donations received up to distribution to the affected families who have to sign upon receipt of aid
At some centres, there were reports that people from as far as Mutare and Harare were coming into Chimanimani on the pretext of visiting their relatives only to benefit from the donations.
“We have plenty of clothes here. Our priority targets when it comes to blankets and clothing items are the homeless who are still in the various camps, and then we give those from the villages. But you find that the people just come in and they start selecting clothes. We have no way of identifying them because they have no documents.
“But with food items, we have been using lists that we get from the councillors and the traditional leaders we are working with. Those who are not in camps receive food every two weeks and we ensure that everyone gets a balanced basket with all nutrients. Those in camps will start receiving baskets once they move to the tents that have been set up at the village. For now, we are feeding them three meals per day,” said an official at Chimanimani High School distribution centre.
“Here in Ngangu, we have not had any challenges in the distribution of food. Everything has been moving smoothly except that our warehouses sometimes are too full. But then we have been distributing the clothes at a faster pace to create space for food items which the people need more. They already have too many clothes and some are now giving to their relatives at their homes to keep,” he said.
An official at Silverstream said for some two weeks before all roads became accessible, donations had overflowed from the tents and since everyone was in panic mode, there might have been some people who took advantage of the chaos to divert items meant for victims.
The amount of donated stuff at the centre has since reduced as more deliveries are now being made directly to the various distribution points.
Silverstream now receives only items being delivered by 30-tonne trucks that are not yet cleared to use the precarious roads while all smaller trucks are delivering directly to other centres.
The centre has also tightened its accounting system as it has come under scrutiny considering that all those who have been caught stealing were seconded there.
Mr Kasima said there has also been a request to beef up security to ensure that nothing and no one leaves the centre with uncleared goods.
“We have security personnel from the ZNA and ZRP. at all centres that are receiving and distributing food. We are tightening up the screws and increasing security organs that are going into different areas so that there are no leakages,” he said.
“Everything is being recorded. We have issuing and dispatching vouchers at every centre and we have officers who are responsible for receiving and dispatching and they record everything coming in and out and at the end of the day we do a reconciliation to see if we have any shortfalls.”
He said the CPU had also dispatched accountants at Silverstream to work with the teams and go through the books and ensure that all records were in order.
“We have also put in place mechanisms to plug the loopholes, like in Silver Streams, we had more than 150 labourers but we realised that this number was too high as it made it difficult for the security forces to manage everything. So we have cut that number to about 50 to make it easy to trace everything,” he said.
Every day, 10 seven-tonne trucks leave the centre to deliver items at the various warehouses established at the different centres as well as to distribute directly to communities in some instances. All the trucks are escorted by security details.