HIGH Court judge Bharat Patel yesterday ruled an independent labour panel should be established to look into the suspension of Zimbabwe Mirror Group of newspapers CEO and editor-in-chief Ibbo
Mandaza by the company’s disputed board.
Justice Patel said the panel would look into and determine the “propriety of the suspension of the first applicant (Mandaza) by the respondents (Mirror chair Jonathan Kadzura and his deputy John Marangwanda)”.
The panel, to be chaired by a retired judge and to include a member from the Institute of Directors of Zimbabwe and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe, will also determine the merits of allegations leading to Mandaza’s suspension.
The Commercial Arbitration Centre will facilitate the appointment of the panel in consultation with parties to the matter.
The ruling came as Mirror deputy editor-in-chief Alexander Kanengoni, fired in August after clashes with Mandaza, bounced back. Sources said Kanengoni returned to work and told workers he was back for good.
Mirror workers were told by management this week they would this month get a 60% salary increase backdated to July. This was said to have boosted their morale.
In a related development, the parliamentary committee on transport and communications chaired by Leo Mugabe was on Monday embroiled in a fierce debate over the need to move forward to probe Mediagate which involves the takeover of private newspapers, including Mirror titles, the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror, by the state security apparatus.
Zanu PF MPs tried to block the issue, but opposition MPs insisted it had to be investigated. After a heated debate, the MPs agreed the issue should remain on the agenda to be looked into at the “appropriate time”.
Kadzura and Marangwanda said last week Mandaza’s suspension followed an Ernst & Young forensic audit report, but did not specify the nature of the report’s findings.
However, there have been insinuations at Mirror board meetings that the audit had unearthed financial misappropriation by Mandaza. Kadzura and his colleagues were said to have questioned certain payments made to Mandaza’s companies, Pre-Print Services and the Southern African Research Consultancy (Sarc). Kadzura in July took over Mirror accounts on that basis.
But two members of the Mirror board, Ambassador Buzwani Mothobi and Amy Tsanga, said this week they had studied the report and found that it did not make “any suggestion of financial impropriety and/or misappropriation of funds on the part of Mandaza”.
They said in any case the audit report was “irregular as there was no properly constituted board meeting or resolution sanctioning it as claimed by Kadzura”.
Mothobi and Tsanga said Kadzura and Marangwanda had suspended Mandaza prematurely on the basis of a “draft audit report”. They said the final report was only released two days after his suspension.
They also said Mandaza’s firms, Pre-Print and Sarc, had “legitimate” pre-existing contracts with the Mirror which justified the payments made to them. The directors further said the Mirror shareholders agreement was “null and void” because Unique World Investments and Zinstanbel did not “comply with the terms and conditions of the agreement”. The two companies say they have complied.