Law enforcement agents have launched an investigation into suspected criminal abuse of office by NetOne acting chairperson, Ms Susan Mutangadura, after she reportedly appointed her suspected business acquaintance — a retired judge — to preside over a disciplinary hearing of suspended CEO Lazarus Muchenje.
The appointment of the judge had already raised eyebrows given that Ms Mutangadura, the complainant against Mr Muchenje — who is on suspension facing various allegations, including incompetence — is a panellist at Africa Institute of Mediation and Arbitration (AIMA), a company founded by the judge (name supplied).
It, however, emerged last week that NetOne has filed an urgent chamber application seeking to bar investigators — who had obtained a search-and-seize order — from accessing relevant documents citing confidentiality.
By the time of writing, the date for hearing the case had not been determined at the High Court.
However, Ms Mutangadura could not comment on Thursday.
“Unfortunately, I cannot comment at the moment for professional reasons,” said Ms Mutangadura.
NetOne, a wholly State-owned enterprise, was formed in 1996 as the first cellular network provider in Zimbabwe.
With more than three million subscribers, it is the country’s second-largest mobile operator after Econet.
Mr Muchenje was suspended on February 20 this year, alongside acting chief finance officer Mr Tinashe Severa.
He subsequently approached the court seeking nullification of the suspension, after which an interim relief order was granted.
On March 12, NetOne appealed the order to interdict the hearing process at the Supreme Court and used that as the basis to proceed with the hearing.
However, the hearing failed to take place after Mr Muchenje insisted that any proceedings would be illegal since there was an interim relief order barring the hearing.
Last week some investigators from the Criminal Investigations Department (Serious Frauds) launched a probe into potential abuse of office by Ms Mutangadura for appointing her “business associate”.
“The police got the order to search and seize relevant documents, which they needed for their investigations,” said a source, who requested not to be named because the matter is now under judicial consideration.
“However, NetOne made an urgent chamber application seeking to interdict the investigators from accessing the documents.”
Ms Mutangadura was authorised by the NetOne board to appoint a disciplinary hearing authority to preside over proceedings of cases involving Mr Muchenje and Mr Severa through a resolution dated February 20 2019.
She then used powers granted to her by the resolution to appoint the judge to preside over the hearing.
A notification letter addressed to Mr Muchenje in March announced the development.
It is believed that the appointment of the judge was in violation of Section 34 of the Public Entities and Governance Act, which states that where a board member or a senior staff member of a public entity knows or has any reason to believe that any of his or her public associates has acquired or holds direct or indirect pecuniary interests in any matter that is under the consideration by the board or that is or, to his or her knowledge, is likely to be the subject matter of a contract between the public entity and any other person, the board member or senior staff shall forthwith disclose to the entity’s board.
Ms Mutangadura took over from former board chairperson Mr James Mutizwa, who alongside two other directors resigned early February this year after allegedly being pressured to do.
Further, two other board members, including Dr Douglas Mamvura, are understood to be in the firing line.
Dr Mamvura, a renowned marketing executive and entrepreneur, is accused of not attending meetings despite not having been invited for a single meeting since his appointment in October last year.
Recent reports claimed that the resignation of the board members were due to poor performance.
It was alleged that according to the assessment report done for the entire board, those who resigned scored very low and failed to produce a viable turnaround strategy to the Ministry of Information Communication Technology and Courier Services, which forced them to quit.
But there are also counter claims that suggest that no board member was “ever independently” assessed or evaluated according to their performance contracts.
The only purported assessments done were for the full board and the chairperson who was independently evaluated, “and this was done very unprofessionally”, added the sources.
A former board member told The Sunday Mail Business that the former chair actually had a 3,5 score, which was above average.
“We have never been individually assessed as board members, we noted the weakness of the whole board and if it is true that the board deserved to be fired by identifying its weakness, then it also raises eyebrows why the other board members are not being fired,” said the former board member, who requested not to be named.
Police national spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi had promised to comment after getting a brief from the CID, but follow-up calls were not responded to.