via Cabinet, Parly clash over Salarygate | The Financial Gazette by Maggie Mzumara 6 Mar 2014
TWO of the country’s arms of State, Parliament and the Executive, are at odds over the course of action to take on parastatal bosses who have been exposed for looting public funds through obscene salaries, board fees as well as other jaw-dropping perks in what could be a reflection of the divisions within the governing party over this emotive issue.
Both arms of government are under pressure from the public to stem the rot which is corroding State enterprises and extend the fight against graft to the private sector in order to lessen the cost of doing business while restoring morals in society. But the Executive and the National Assembly are not on the same page regarding how to stem the rot.
Parliament is advocating for a root and branch shake-up of the parastatals and local authorities with those found wanting being made to face the full wrath of the law. The Executive, possibly taking a cue from the embarrassing Goodwills Masimirembwa saga, prefers a more cautious approach in line with the due process of the law. Former Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation chairman, Masimirembwa was publicly accused by President Robert Mugabe of accepting a US$5 million bribe from a Ghanaian investor only for the ZANU-PF leader to make a dramatic U-turn, saying he had been fed wrong information.
President Mugabe has put in place a Cabinet Committee on State Enterprises and Parastatals Development to oversee a forensic audit of parastatals and local authorities after a public furore over hefty salaries earned by parastatal and local authorities bosses despite their failure to pay low level employees and deliver services. Not many are, however, convinced that this route will work considering the ZANU-PF administration’s lackadaisical approach to dealing with corruption.
Pessimists cite government’s inaction over the plunder of public resources through the War Victims Compensation Fund, the VIP Housing Scandal and the Presidential Inputs Scheme among other examples of cases that have died a natural death. This has led to Parliament instituting what could pass for a parallel process to nail the culprits although many doubt whether the August House has what it takes to take the process to its logical conclusion.
In the past, the Executive has tended to have an overbearing influence over Parliament, raising questions about the independence of the legislature. To P27
Parliamentarians, who have been debating the Salarygate saga in recent months, and are taking steps to establish their own parliamentary committee to investigate corruption in the State enterprises, are clamouring for prompt action against culprits.
Only last week, Parliamentarians unanimously supported a motion to constitute a Parliamentary Committee to investigate State enterprises and local authorities.
Mbizo Member of Parliament, Settlement Chikwinya, demanded action by Parliament. “We need to know because … we are entitled through the Constitution of Zimbabwe to represent people …,” Chikwinya said.
“We cannot trust the Executive to act on corruption because we have had some people there trying to muzzle the media for reporting on corruption,” said Prince Sibanda MP for Binga North. This followed a motion by Kambuzuma legislator, Willias Madzimure that Parliament capacitates portfolio committees to carry out their oversight role and ensure good corporate governance. He then called for a commission of inquiry into the parastatal boards.
“We want ministers to be fair … by appointing bona fide people into boards, why do we have the same people being recycled in several boards. We want a commission of inquiry into this,” Madzimure said. The House rallied behind this proposal, with legislators from across the political divide unanimously agreeing to come up with a committee to investigate corruption and poor corporate governance prevailing in State enterprises.
Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Mudenda, who admitted recently that Parliament was caught with their pants down on the matter of parastatals remuneration, told the Financial Gazette on Tuesday that the august House could still do something about the issue. “As Parliament, to some extent we went to sleep. We should have done that (to rationalise remuneration) but now we know. It is not too late to start acting,” he said.
Mudenda said if the nation wanted the reinstatement of a section on rationalising remuneration of State enterprises which had been dropped at the drafting stage of the new Constitution. It could be brought back on as an amendment. “If the nation feels that a provision for remuneration rationalisation should come back, the matter can be dealt with as an amendment. The Bill will be brought to Parliament and be debated as per procedure,” Mudenda said. But Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said Cabinet will not move with haste to punish those implicated in the salarygate scandal but will seek to “establish the facts” first.
“Parliament wants action first. We don’t want that. We want to follow the evidence first,” he said yesterday. “There are people with political agendas and that is not the way to go. We don’t want what Parliament is saying — that we should punish people first. We should first establish the facts. We need to follow the evidence regardless of anyone’s political affiliations. We do not want any witch hunting or hurting of innocent people,” said Chinamasa.
Chinamasa on Tuesday told Parliament that government was “fully committed to ensure that this matter of immense pubic and indeed national interest is resolved in accordance with the due process of the law”.
“In this connection, government has decided that the Cabinet Committee on State Enterprises and Parastatals Development will oversee the forensic audit of all parastatals and local authorities to give them a clean bill of health as may be necessary on a case-by-case basis,” Chinamasa said.
He said in his address on Corporate Governance and Remuneration Policy Framework for chief executive officers of parastatals, State enterprises and local authorities, that board appointments would be rationalised, as would management, performance and chief executives’ recruitment. While the Cabinet Committee would oversee to the forensic audit, a new entity, the Corporate Governance and Delivery Agency, would ensure compliance with the Corporate Governance Framework and the National Code of Corporate Governance in Zimbabwe, he said.
Other measures announced by Chinamasa include barring permanent secretaries from sitting on any State enterprise boards; selecting board members on merit and on four-year renewable terms; ensuring a 50/50 gender representation; and ensuring that annual general meetings would be attended by representatives from the Office of the President and Cabinet.
The Cabinet Committee, which is leading the process, will meet next week to decide on the current situation prevailing in the State enterprises. “In undertaking this important and urgent task, the Cabinet Committee on State Enterprises and Parastatals Development will endeavour to ensure that the process is objective, transparent, fair, impartial, non-political and strictly evidence-based,” Chinamasa said.
“Put differently, the Committee will not superintend over a politicised witch-hunt against any individual or interest.” The media exposed late last year obscene salaries for parastatals, with Premier Service Medical Aid Society boss, Cuthbert Dube, topping the list with a salary and allowances in excess of US$500 000 per month. Suspended Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation chief executive Happison Muchechetere was earning in excess of US$40 000 monthly while workers had gone for months without pay.
A salary schedule for Harare City Council leaked to the press last month revealed that Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi was taking home US$37 000 while the directors were getting US$36 000. According to the schedule, the top brass was pocketing more than US$500 000 a month. The revelations came at a time council workers had just staged a demonstration over non-payment of November and December salaries.