HARARE – In yet another controversy that has engulfed problems-prone Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has blocked him from appointing economist and former opposition kingpin — Eddie Cross — as his special advisor, the Daily News can report.
The development comes barely two months after Ncube was left with egg on his face, following his brief but equally controversial appointment of rabble-rousing influence-peddler, William Gerald Mutumanje — also known as Acie Lumumba — as his communications spearhead.
In the ensuing fallout over that ill-advised appointment, Lumumba later admitted that he had been paid to do a hatchet job on four Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) senior officials, as well as introverted businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei.
Ncube was later compelled to sack Mutumanje after the latter had made a cocktail of staggering allegations on social media, regarding untested illegal foreign currency dealings at the central bank — claims which shook both Zanu PF and the government to their core.
Authoritative sources told the Daily News yesterday that Mnangagwa had intervened in the Cross appointment to “avert another embarrassment” for his government and the ruling Zanu PF.
Cross was, until his recent retirement from public life, a respected senior MDC official, and also MP for Bulawayo South for the party until the hotly-disputed July 30 national elections.
“There is no doubt that the appointment would have caused ructions in the party considering that Cross is still seen as an opposition member whose comrades continue to refuse to accept ED’s presidency.
“It would also have been unprecedented in the history of the party, outside of the government of national unity, to see an influential member of the opposition being given such a role — when there are many people in Zanu PF who can do that unnecessary job,” one of the well-placed sources said.
Efforts by the Daily News yesterday to get a comment from Ncube did not yield results.
But the amiable Cross confirmed that he was supposed to have started work at the Finance ministry on November 1, before things went pear-shaped.
Asked if he thought that the government no longer required his expertise, the former Member of Parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee, as well as the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Let’s wait and see what eventually happens”.
Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi said he was not aware of Cross’ appointment.
“As far as we are concerned, the president has not yet said anything to that effect (the appointment). We have not yet heard about that even from Cabinet briefings,” he said.
Had Cross joined the Finance ministry, it would have marked a return to familiar territory, as he worked for many years in government before and after the country’s independence in 1980.
He first worked in the Agriculture ministry, and then as an economist with the Agricultural Marketing Authority. He was later appointed as the chief executive of the Dairibord, before becoming the CEO of the Cold Storage Commission in 1983 — then the largest meat organisation in Africa.
In 1987, he was appointed the managing director of the Beira Corridor Group (BCG), a position he held until 1990.
In the new role, Cross was expected to assist Ncube with the much-needed reforms that can take the country out of the current economic doldrums — characterised by sharp price increases and shortages of fuel.
Another source told the Daily News that Ncube appeared not to have learned anything from the Mutumanje debacle — which had left the minister’s political nous and decision-making capacity being questioned by his colleagues and senior Zanu PF officials.
When Ncube controversially appointed Mutumanje, there was a furious response from many quarters, including Information ministry officials who said they were the only ones responsible for government communications.
It didn’t help matters that Mutumanje went on to make staggering allegations on Facebook, on supposed illegal foreign currency dealings at the central bank — naming four senior RBZ officials and Tagwirei in the process as being at the centre of illegal foreign currency dealings.
This led to the precautionary suspension of the fingered central bank executives by governor John Mangudya.
However, and no sooner had this happened, Mutumanje was reported by the Daily News’ sister paper, the Daily News on Sunday, claiming that he had been paid $40 000 dollars to smear the RBZ directors — Mirirai Chiremba, Norman Mataruka, Gresham Muradzikwa and Azvinandaa Saburi.
He revealed that he had “sold his soul to the devil” by accepting the money — which he claimed he needed desperately to send his ailing father for treatment in India.
Mutumanje later made even more startling revelations regarding the hot subject of State capture in the country.
“I want to go to Joburg for like a week and disappear from the noise. I don’t want to be part of this mess (the State capture saga and his allegations of corruption), however, it ends.
“You know, my greatest worry with stopping or quitting or even changing narrative is will I be able to look after myself afterwards? The only reason why these people got me is they knew I was really in a tough corner.
“They knew my father wasn’t feeling well. My father needed an operation. It was actually almost like they tricked me because inini ndakaenda kuna (I went to) … (name of individual withheld on legal advice) and said aah vakomana (gentlemen), how can you guys leave my father suffering like this?
“You people makashanda mese (you worked together) and you are really going to leave him? Then they said no problem, we will look after him. But there’s something we want you to do,” Mutumanje said in a recorded second message.
“But because at the time I wasn’t thinking, the only thing that was on my mind was ‘can you look after my father’. I made commitments and said ‘yes, I will do it’ — without knowing what it is.
“Mdhara akaenda kunorapwa zvakanaka (my father went for his treatment in India and all went well). I didn’t know I had signed my life away,” he added.
“So, pandakapihwa basa rekunzi enda kuministry of Finance (when I was given the Finance ministry job), in my head I thought I was going to assist the minister of Finance to communicate zvinhu zvekuministry of Finance.
“What I didn’t know is they already knew the detail. But I didn’t know the detail. I knew the position, not the detail,” Mutumanje said.
Asked by the person he was recorded talking to whether Ncube was part of the plot, Mutumanje answered in the affirmative, claiming that the former banker had been heavily involved.
“I’m saying there is nothing that I’m saying that is coming from my head. Hapana guess work paya paya,” confirming further that he had been paid $40 000 in hard currency for the hatchet job.
“It was real desperation. I just lost my mother. So, psychologically the thought of losing a father right after losing a mother is traumatising. So, I panicked and I went to the only place I thought I could get help,” he added.