THE Zimbabwe Independent last week took its investigation of looting at the government-owned steelmaking company, Ziscosteel, to Botswana where se
nior officials at related companies dodged questions.
Although the trip yielded important leads into the deep-rooted corruption at the company, key players ducked and dived.
Ramotswa/Tswana Steel & Iron Co MD Jemister Chininga and former director at the companies, Subhash Kapur, avoided interviews to explain the disappearance of US$500 000 in a deal involving the buying by Zisco of subsidiaries in Botswana.
Zisco is the biggest government-owned company with a number of local subsidiaries and others in South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia and Botswana.
Searches at the Registrar of Companies in Gaborone showed Chininga is still a director at the Botswana subsidiaries, while Kapur has resigned. Initially there were four directors with the surname Kapur. The Kapurs all live at the same address, Plot 80 Sebina Close, Gaborone.
The other directors are David Murangari (Zisco chair), Michael John Harris, Eustace Alphania Wright and Albert Dube. Former Zisco MD Gabriel Masanga has now resigned.
The US$500 000 scandal was found by the National Economic Conduct Inspectorate (NECI) to be one of the most blatant cases of corruption ever unearthed in Zimbabwe.
Ramotswa and Tswana were bought by Zisco in 2001 for US$3 million from Kapur. However, US$3 535 287,07 was paid in the deal. This means there was an overpayment by US$535 287,07. It is not clear who were the end-beneficiaries but the money went to Kapur.
Zisco’s finance department has failed to explain the overpayment and this has raised fears the money was illegally transferred to Botswana as part of the Ramotswa/Tswana deal and later shared among company officials.
The subsidiaries are now being clandestinely sold without government’s approval, showing there were major efforts to strip Zisco of its assets and rip off the public in the process. Although Zisco has refused to identify the buyers, sources say top politicians were behind the secret move.
Senior government officials and ministers, including Vice-Presidents Joseph Msika and Joice Mujuru, and ministers Samuel Mumbengegwi, Stan Mudenge, Patrick Chinamasa, Sithembiso Nyoni, Olivia Muchena and former Zanu PF MP Tirivanhu Mudariki have been named in the Zisco affair. Muchena and Nyoni denied their involvement in the saga. Msika has claimed there was no looting at Zisco. Top Zisco managers are also involved.
While the Independent tried to interview Chininga and Kapur during a week-long visit to Botswana, the two flatly refused. Interviews with them would have been key in unlocking the US$500 000 disappearance puzzle.
Chininga, named in the NECI report on Zisco as a key player in the graft, said he was just a “small fish” and advised the Independent to deal with the “big fish” in Harare.
“Talk to our chairman in Harare, we are just ‘small fish’. Talk to the ‘big fish’,” Chininga said in a telephone conversation. “I don’t think I can be able to talk to you about this. I think you should talk to the chairman. When you phoned I was actually thinking it’s a friend of mine who also has a similar name as yours. “
After a protracted attempt to persuade him to accept the interview, the line cut in the middle of the conversation. Efforts to call back did not succeed as his secretary quickly claimed Chininga had gone out of the office despite the fact he was on the phone just a few seconds earlier.
“He is now out of the office,” she said. “You can’t talk to him because as I speak he has gone out.”
Prior to that Chininga’s office had the whole of last week said he was not in the office and would not come back until Friday. However, he was found in the office on Thursday after repeated calls. He only took the call by coincidence because, as he said, he was expecting a call from a friend with a similar name to the reporter.
Kapur was hostile went contacted over the issue.
“I don’t want to talk to you because I’m no longer at Ramotswa. I was there about six or seven years, so I don’t want to discuss history,” Kapur said. “Don’t even come to my office, I don’t want you here.”
Although Kapur claimed to have resigned as director more than six years ago, documents show he was still a director in 2004, meaning he resigned last year. An updated list of the directors for 2005 no longer shows him as one of the directors.
The trip to Botswana also revealed other interesting issues. The Botswana government and the media are increasingly getting involved in the issue. Government, according to inside sources, is worried about a whole range of issues, including the clear “sneaking” into Botswana by Zimbabwean officials involved in Zisco and the apparent corruption at Ramotswa and Tswana companies.
The media is also interested. This week the press was pulling out all the stops to find out which Botswana MP, police officers, immigration and Customs officers, labour officials and politicians received money from Ramotswa in the name of dubious “donations”.
Efforts to interview Koy Travel & Tours officials who bought air tickets for Zimbabwean officials who travelled to Botswana also hit a snag as the company has since closed. Another travel agency, Skylink, has now taken its offices. Skylink officials were unable to shed light on the whereabouts of Koy members.
Managers of the plush Grand Palm Hotel Casino & Convention Resort where Zimbabwean government officials used to stay, wine and dine were also unhelpful. They claimed they have a new computer network and all records before July have been lost.
But unofficial interviews with different sorts of people at the hotel were very useful. They confirmed that Zimbabwean officials frequented the hotel and enjoyed food and drink at the hotel’s several bars and restaurants, the Kalahari bar, Oasis bar, Caesar’s bar,Livingstone restaurant, the Beef Baron Grill and Rib Room and the Fig Tree restaurant and bar on public funds.
In the end, the trip showed that the corruption exposed so far at Zisco is only the tip of the iceberg. Graft runs deep at the company.
Investigations into the Zisco scandal will continue until the public get the answers they are entitled to.