With bosses like these, who needs sanctions?

Power utility ZESA Holdings is one of the State enterprises that have failed to deliver on their mandate

Power utility ZESA Holdings is one of the State enterprises that have failed to deliver on their mandate

Lloyd Gumbo Mr Speaker, Sir
Sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the West after the revolutionary land redistribution exercise at the turn of the millennium have had a negative impact on the performance of the economy in the last decade, agreed! But in all fairness, Mr Speaker Sir, we as a nation, particularly those in charge of institutions that are supposed to bust the embargoes, are equally culpable.

If truth be told without fear or favour, we have allowed mediocrity to flourish at some parastatals and State enterprises with those in charge using the sanctions as a scapegoat. Those in charge of parastatals and State enterprises now blame everything on sanctions even when it’s sheer incompetence and utter corruption.

One would not be far off the mark to suggest that some of the boards and management at these institutions actually don’t want the sanctions removed as this would expose their incompetence and extravagance. Mr Speaker Sir, it should take no-nonsense ministers to hold these people to account by showing them that it’s not business as usual. Ministers must not fall for the usual rhetoric when it’s so glaring that their appointed officials are either incompetent or are just bleeding the institutions they are in charge of.

Delivering the State of the Nation Address on Tuesday, President Mugabe aptly exposed how some officials at State companies have failed the country. “The extravagance of remuneration packages and associated benefits which boards and management have blithely awarded themselves border on the obscene, reflecting avarice and greed, instead of the commitment to serve which we expect, indeed demand, of those appointed to such strategic positions.”

Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko rapped the same officials on his tour of Mashonaland Central province last week. “The problem is that some of our officials in these parastatals have behaved like expatriates,” said VP Mphoko. “They have not justified their existence. They are not serving the people. They are more interested in their perks. So as long as they are getting their perks and other benefits, they are okay with that. They don’t bother about viability of these institutions.

“There are things that some parastatals are failing to achieve because those in charge are stealing. “When you are occupying those positions, you must know that you have a responsibility to ensure they are viable. A lot of our infrastructure has been run down and mines closed and you can’t get an explanation about how and why they were closed.”

We don’t need a doctor to diagnose a major problem that is so glaring for everyone to see. Some of the State companies operate in commercially viable markets yet they have remained in the red while their private competitors are breaking even and sometimes even posting huge profits. The recently exposed demands by Harare City Council Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi are just the tip of an iceberg of how much some senior officials in State companies earn or are entitled to.

To imagine that these demands are made to a local authority that is actually struggling to serve the city boggles the mind. Mr Speaker Sir, the fact that Mahachi has the temerity to actually put in writing demands that are outrageous by any standards clearly shows that some of the people who lead State organisations have no conscience at all.

Just like what VP Mphoko said, they are more interested in what they get than what they can give. The outgoing town clerk appears not to care about the impact that such demands, if they were to be met, would have on the local authority. What is clear is that these demands arise from the contract that he penned with the City Fathers.

Therein lies the problem!
The contracts that some senior management at State organisations sign leave a lot to be desired. For instance, if one were to look at the vehicles that top management at most parastatals and State enterprises drive, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Mr Speaker Sir, it’s as if they are competing to outdo each other.

Ironically, some of these organisations are failing to break even. They last declared a dividend to Treasury probably during the Zimbabwean dollar era yet they continue to plunder what is left. The extravagance exhibited by officials at State institutions worsen the effects of the illegal sanctions imposed by the West. Talk of fuel guzzlers or latest top-of -the-range vehicles, management at some of the State companies are the first to order them.

They are driving better vehicles than top representatives of bilateral and multinational financial institutions. This is happening against the backdrop of failure by the same organisations to deliver on their mandate. Truly speaking, if parastatals and State enterprises adhered to good corporate governance, they alone would have enabled the country to bust the illegal sanctions.

But instead, they are abetting the same to frustrate any recovery plans that Government introduces. It somehow sends an unintended message to the West that we can still enjoy life in spite of the illegal embargo. While the Western-imposed sanctions are biting, it is the domestic ones that are more vicious as poor workers who have gone for months without salaries are sent home while those who roll in big vehicles remain to continue the plunder.

The major problem that we have as a country is that we have officials who are supposed to monitor the operations of parastatals and State enterprises and blow the whistle the moment they detect nefarious activities. The buck stops with line ministries who should be proactive in monitoring how organisations under their ambit are operating.

But that problem will remain with us as long as individuals in the form of ministers have autonomous rights to appoint boards. As has been raised on this column before, ministers have a major say in the appointment of management at parastatals and State enterprises despite the existence of boards.

The problem with such a scenario is that those officials are bound to be lazy knowing that they are the minister’s blue-eyed boys or girls. In the end, the minister will find it difficult to reprimand such people in the event that they have crossed the line. Mr Speaker Sir, what should be ideal is to have the boards appointed by Parliament just like they do with commissions.

How can anyone expect Parliament’s committees to effectively exercise their oversight role on State institutions when they are not the ones who draft the terms of reference? Mr Speaker Sir, this is the reason some officials display arrogance when they appear before Parliament’s committees because they believe they are only accountable to the minister who appointed them through boards.

Parliament as the true representative of the masses, must approve contracts of officials at State organisations if good corporate governance is to be adhered to. The economic environment in the country does not leave room for extravagance. If illegal sanctions are biting, let’s act so!

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