Lupane State University in corruption storm

Lupane State University (LSU) in Matabeleland North has been plunged into controversy after the emergence of accusations of corruption against the institution’s vice chancellor and other senior employees of the university.

According to sources at the university, the Vice Chancellor Professor Pardon Kuipa, his assistant Julius Tapera and the Acting Procurement Manager Knowledge Muvirimi, are allegedly involved in malpractices such as irregular tender awarding, inflating invoices and bills in procurement services, particularly in relation to the institution’s farming projects.

According to internal documents seen by CITE, one of the cases at the university involves the purchasing of a Chancellor’s robe and gown cap for 11 965 South African Rands from T Birch and Co PTY LTD which is significantly more expensive than similar attires at other universities in South Africa.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is the Chancellor of the university.

However, through its own investigations, CITE established that for an institution like the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN), a similar gown, including a hood and a bonnet, is 4 155 South African Rands.

Further investigations revealed that for the University of Western Cape, also in South Africa, it is worth around 3 000 Rands.

Sources say the university authorities approached Agribank to get the foreign currency to procure the gown.

However, after buying the gown, they did not go back to the bank with allegations that the gown was smuggled into the country together with components of a public address (PA) system.

Sources at the university have told CITE that workers at LSU have spoken out against these malpractices that involve inflated costs of university projects.

“Workers did speak out against these malpractices,” the source said. “They even wrote to the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) but nothing happened. PRAZ acknowledged receipt of the complaint by writing to the LSU community on May 8, 2023 where they indicated that they have engaged the university and they will be informed, up to now no word from them.”

However, the university management has reportedly reacted by victimising the workers for blowing the whistle on these malpractices.

“Workers were victimised,” sources said. “Some were removed from the farm plot so that there is no one who remains with information.”

The source said there are mainly three key players involved in the shenanigans.

“It is the acting procurement manager, the vice chancellor and the assistant to the vice chancellor, who was given the task to oversee procurement yet he does not have any procurement qualifications,” sources said.

A university internal audit on a  Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (ZimDef) letterhead dated March 17, 2023 detailed the corruption around a Nguni Bullying Heifers procurement entered into with Michview Enterprises.

“A few of the 60 Nguni Bullying Heifers purchased from Michiview Enterprises at the cost of 22 million (US$132 534.75) in May 2022 were not yet delivered as of date,” the report said in part. 

“Of the fourteen delivered, eight were cows and one was a calf instead of the heifers specified.”

The audit report also alleged that the deal was entered into without signing a contract between the university and Michiview enterprises “detailing terms and conditions.”

“According to the source the supplier is still sourcing for the cattle,” said the report.

The goat project at the university was also reportedly faced with challenges.

“The goats purchased had declined by 63%,” the report said. “Three hundred and eighteen goats were recorded as dead, thirty missing, six not delivered and 20 stolen out of 528 bought.”

In terms of the same audit document, there were suspicions of corrupt activities around the farm shed and dip tank projects at the university’s farm.

Documentations also suggested there was acrimony between the bursar and the vice chancellor, who wrote a strong email on July 30, 2021 at 15.26 accusing the bursar of insubordination.

“Normally, you should not refuse to pay what the vice chancellor has already authorised and signed, because it is the Accounting Officer who is answerable for any wrongs committed during procurement and not the Accountant,” the terse letter read. “Normally, I also don’t expect Works and Estates to supervise construction of chicken runs, laying of drip-irrigation pipe networks and pigsties.

“That is best supervised by specialists in the Faculty of Agriculture who have studied farm structures in greater depth. What you are doing is typically referred to as insubordination.”

Various attempts by CITE to get comments from the LSU administration have been unsuccessful.

The publication first contacted the LSU Registrar, Thamsanqa Donga, who referred CITE to Acting Director Marketing and Public Relations, Mcendisi Ngwenya.

Ngwenya requested that the questions be sent via email and it was sent on July 26, 2023, and since then he has not responded.  

In follow-up enquiries, Ngwenya said he had referred the inquiry to the management, which was still seized with the matter. 

Ngwenya advised CITE to talk to the Registrar, who acknowledged the inquiry had been sent to the vice chancellor’s office.

When CITE was unable to reach Ngwenya after many attempts, the reporter returned to Donga, who advised the publication that there was a new Acting Director, Marketing and Public Relations.

When reached for comment, Jensen Gulube, the new Acting Director, requested time to settle in the office as he was new to the portfolio. 

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