MEMBERS of Parliament yesterday grilled top officials in the Local Government ministry, accusing them of rushing to set up commissions of inquiry to probe local authorities while turning a blind eye to the rot at passenger transport company Zupco.
Acting company secretary Retired Colonel Joseph Mhakayakora was taken to task over why the Zupco board, led by University of Zimbabwe pro-vice chancellor Chipo Dyanda, had remained unchanged when other government entities had had new appointments.
Mhakayakora, Dyanda and Zupco acting chief executive officer George Masaire were left tongue-tied after members of the Local Government Portfolio Committee, led by Mutasa South MP Irene Zindi (Zanu PF), bombarded them with questions over Zupco’s comatose state and alleged interference by Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo.
“I smell a rat here. Your ministry is quick to set commissions of inquiry to probe land deals, why are you not doing the same to probe Zupco?” Glen Norah MP Webster Maondera (MDC-T) queried.
Buhera South MP Joseph Chinotimba (Zanu PF) alleged political interference in the running of Zupco and victimisation of workers and board members by the parent ministry.
“I also want to know who appoints the board,” Chinotimba said. “We hear that most of them are appointed because they are girlfriends or boyfriends of some influential people in the ministry. The same with workers, we hear some are appointed because they are related to those influential people. Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said boards should be changed to ensure efficiency. Why is the Zupco board not changed?”
But Mhakayakora said the board was appointed by Chombo and any question regarding those appointments should be directed to the minister.
Dyanda denied allegations of political interference, saying: “We are very independent.”
Chinotimba quizzed Mhakayakora and Dyanda on why they had fired six chief executive officers within five years, with each going with packages that included their official vehicles.
“If they are guilty, why do they go with full benefits?” Chinotimba queried.
Dyanda said most of them were fired due to incompetence and legally, there was need to enter negotiations over their exit.
The outspoken MP also demanded an explanation on why Zupco was offering free accommodation to Kimcraw, a Chinese company providing technical support to Zupco.
Kimcraw officials were allegedly staying in a Zupco house in Newlands, Harare, free of charge.
The Buhera South MP also demanded to know why Zupco financial reports had not been audited since 2009.
He also questioned Dyanda as to why the company was rehiring workers it once retrenched, while forcing others to go on unpaid forced leave.
“Maybe these are your relatives again that you are bringing back to the company,” he suggested.
Zupco, with a fleet of over 240 buses from China, has been struggling to pay workers and retrenchment packages.
Dyanda said the company was struggling to clear off debts, with some amounting to millions.
She said Zupco was also setting aside 30% for the recapitalisation, with plans to buy 100 buses each year.
She said she had not demanded any allowance from Zupco since her appointment as board chair in 2009.
“I just felt this was morally incorrect to do so when workers are not paid,” she said, prompting Chinotimba to warn her not to lie under oath.
Zupco, which is facing serious viability challenges, however, struggled to give an exact figure of the money that was generated from the sale of its old fleet of AVM buses countrywide and how the money was used.