Top prison officers probed for abuse, corruption

An anti-corruption committee in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, is investigating senior Zimbabwe Prison Service officials for rampant corruption and abuse of prisoners.

Obert Gutu: swamped with reports of malpractice.
Obert Gutu: swamped with reports of malpractice.

Deputy Minister, Obert Gutu, who chairs the committee, told The Zimbabwean that his office is swamped with reports of the malpractice in ZPS.

“There have been numerous reports coming to my office regarding corruption at ZPS. I want to look into the matter and investigate to get to its core,” he said. Sources have revealed how previous investigations have failed because the fingered culprits are protected by powerful individuals within the service, who have links to influential politicians.

Several senior Zimbabwe Prison Services officials have been accused of fleecing the government of thousands of dollars through fraudulent deals. They were also reportedly abusing prisoners and some prison guards were forcing them to work at their homes and farms without approval from prison authorities.

A source in the prison services said some officials, on behalf of an Assistant Commissioner (name withheld), diverted a donation of building materials made by Lafarge Cement. The Asst Comm could not be reached for a comment because he is said to be out of the country.

“There was a donation made by Lafarge Cement, comprising 17 cubic meters of three quarter stones and bags of cement which he (the Asst Comm) converted to his own use,” the source said.

He said the Asst Comm was also using government equipment and personnel in the construction of his house in Chishawasha.

“He has taken five spirit levels, five tape measures, builders lines, 10 wheelbarrows, 20 overalls, 20 pairs of gumboots and seven pairs of work-suits that he is using for the construction of a 15-roomed house at a farm in Chishawasha” he said.

A CMED truck was reportedly also being used to ferry building materials to the property.

The source added that 20 prisoners were working as labourers at the construction site, guarded by nine prison officers, all at the expense of the government, and without food.

“The prisoners sometimes work on empty stomachs and only get food when they return to the prison,” he said.

Sources say some of the senior officials connived to divert funds meant for the maintenance of the Harare Central Prison to purchase private houses for two Deputy Commissioners in Chisipite and Mount Pleasant as a way of currying favours.

“The purchase of the two properties did not go through the State Procurement Board as required by law,” an insider said, adding that the officials were also abusing a supermarket facility, where they were directing all staff to purchase goods so that they could get kickbacks.

The senior prisons officers would reportedly get two percent of the total purchase value made by ZPS each month.

They would do the same at a hardware shop in the central business district, where everyone was under strict instructions to buy hardware material for the prison services in return for kickbacks. The Asst Comm has allegedly placed his close friends in the prisons procurement board in order for them to manipulate the procurement process for his personal benefit.

A ZPS farm, the source said, was being leased to a dubious company, Xobikani, in which senior officers are suspected to have interests.

The company, which runs a piggery project, is said to owe the prison services thousands of dollars in rentals, yet nothing was being done to rectify the situation.

“The farm should have been used by the prison services. The prisoners could produce their own food from there. Right now the prisoners have no food or clothes yet they should have been benefiting from the organisation’s resources. The materials that were stolen should have been used to build more houses for officers instead of benefiting a few individuals,” said the source. ZPS juniors who have attempted to expose the corruption have been victimized, he added.

The chief executive of the Zimbabwe Association of Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender, Edison Chiota, said prison systems should rehabilitate rather than punish or abuse prisoners. “We have a challenge when one goes on a rehabilitation programme and does not get something to eat or is abused. A prisoner is a human being just like you and me and should not be exploited,” he said.

Zimbabwe Prisons Services Spokesperson, Priscilla Mutembo, said she was not aware of the any corruption within the institution.

“I am not aware of any allegations or reports against senior or junior prison officers. I would have been informed. We have our internal police and they should have been aware. However, there is always room for investigations,” she said.

A senior ZPS officer says prisoners are also vulnerable at lower levels, mainly because the abusers are in a position to supply them with things that they crave, including food, small privileges and luxuries such as cigarettes. “The fact that security guards have unlimited access to prisoners makes the inmates vulnerable. Prison wardens can make one’s life easy or unbearable depending on existing relations,” he said on condition of anonymity.

He added that junior prison officers often asked female prisoners for sex in return for favours, but, “even though it may be consensual, intimacy between staff and inmates is strictly forbidden”.

He divulged that at a female officer was impregnated by a fairly senior warden, but the matter was swept under the carpet. Female inmates lack proper food, sanitary wear and appropriate medical care and are sometimes subjected to solitary confinement, and wardens who can supply these or make life easier for them usually get sexual favours.

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