BY PROBLEM MASAU LEGISLATORS have accused the Executive of systematically stripping the country of its valuable assets and selling them through opaque deals, which observers say smells of deep-rooted corruption and plunder.
In a heated question-and-answer-session in Parliament last Thursday, it emerged that government has been clandestinely disposing of strategic entities such as mines and petroleum outlets without seeking parliamentary approval, in flagrant breach of the country’s Constitution.
Early this month, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa confirmed the sale of government-owned petroleum firms PetroTrade and Genesis, saying: “The nation will recall that Cabinet in 2019 approved the merging of the State-owned petroleum companies, namely PetroTrade (Pvt) Ltd and Genesis Energy to form a single entity that would be partially privatised. Cabinet also approved Independent Petroleum Group as the prospective strategic partner to the merged petroleum company, subject to successful negotiations.”
In March this year, Energy minister Zhemu Soda suspended the PetroTrade board just months after its appointment allegedly for resisting the sale of the company. Back in 2021, government structured a deal that would see 10 companies take control of Zimbabwe’s gold refiner, Fidelity Printers and Refiners, for US$49 million.
However, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said government was no longer selling Fidelity Printers.
“I want for the record to state that there is no public-private partnership (PPP) that we have entered into. What we had announced was something that we thought was a good idea, which was to partially privatise Fidelity Gold Refineries (which) has been suspended indefinitely,” Ncube told Parliament on Thursday. “We will look into it in future once we have overhauled the company sufficiently so that we get good value for money from whoever comes in to invest in the company. So at the moment, all PPPs in terms of investments have been suspended indefinitely.”
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti (Citizens Coalition for Change MP for Harare East) questioned the wisdom of selling off strategic entities of national interests such as Fidelity Printers and Refiners.
“I am concerned with the very idea of wanting to privatise Fidelity Gold Refinery. It eludes my wisdom why you would want to dispose of that gold refinery given the strategic nature of gold in our country,” he said.
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“For instance, ZB Bank has been privatised, First Mutual Life was divested from NSSA [National Social Security Authority] and another big bank was also divested from the State. Gold mines have been divested from the State. Bindura Nickel (BNC) has been diverted from the State. Why are privatisations occurring nocturnally or Nicodemously, in the shadow of darkness outside Parliament?”
Harare North MP Rusty Markham (Citizens Coalition for Change) said companies linked to ruling elite were clandestinely being awarded tenders.
“We need to trace the companies. Their shareholding should not be a secret. Some of the companies look dodgy and shadowy,” he said.
Kuvimba Mining House, linked to business mogul Kudakwashe Tagwireyi and did not exist until 2020, has emerged to be arguably the country’s largest gold producer after embarking on an acquisition spree of lucrative gold assets around the country, including Shamva Mine, Freda Rebecca and mines held by Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation, namely Elvington, Jena, Golden Kopje and Sandawana.
“Government purports to have shares in Kuvimba Mining House. So it’s like the government puts its entities up for sale, only for it to buy it with one of their companies. Does it even make sense? It shows that something fishy is going on,” said analyst Pardon Taodzera.
South Africa-based Zimbabwe economics lecturer Romeo Chasara believes that high-ranking officials were preparing their retirement by stripping off the country’s assets.
“Government officials have proxies in these companies that act on their behalf. This is a sophisticated way of looting and plundering of national assets. Most of these companies have offshore accounts and in the event of political change, it will be difficult to trace all these monies being siphoned outside the country. This is great looting in plain eyes,” Chasara said.
Government has also been questioned over a number of business deals with China after adopting the Look East Policy in the early 2000s as a counter strategy to Western sanctions.
During last Thursday’s question-and-answer session, Biti also took Ncube to task after the minister presented contradictory figures on how much the country owed China.
The Harare East legislator further pointed out a 2006 US$200 million Zimbabwe-China deal that saw Zimbabwe collateralising an undisclosed asset worth more than US$52 billion.
Biti said: “I have two questions for the esteemed minister. You said the amounts we owe to China are about US$1,7 billion, but your mathematics is not adding up because you said total indebtedness to China was US$2,7 billion and you have only paid US$152 million. So, if you subtract US$152 million from US$2,7 billion, it does not give you US$1,7 billion, but about US$2,6 billion.”
Ncube struggled to justify the deal, saying it needed to be renegotiated.