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Zitac threatens TIMB over alleged bias

Bernard Mpofu

THE Zimbabwe Industry Tobacco Auction Centre (Zitac), the country’s embattled tobacco sales auction floor operator, has threatened the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) with unspecified action for alleged bias in handling the wrangle between property owners Boka Investments and Zitac.

This move comes barely a week after Zitac shareholder Caleb Dengu demanded Agriculture minister Joseph Made’s resignation. Dengu was unhappy that Made rubberstamped a decision by TIMB, the industry’s regulator, to award a tobacco auction floor licence to Boka Investments, a company run by late businessman Roger Boka’s family.

A document purportedly authored by Dengu warns that Zitac, currently tenants at the Boka Tobacco Auction floors owned by Boka Investments, would block the property owners from running the floors after TIMB last year issued an operating licence to the company. Boka Investments’ licensing signalled an end to Zitac’s nearly 10-year occupancy at the disputed property.

TIMB’s decision follows a High Court order in November 2010 that “barred, restrained and interdicted” TIMB from issuing an operating licence to Zitac if it intends to operate from the 50 000 square metre Boka Tobacco Auction floors.

“We would like to state upfront that we are concerned with the impartiality of TIMB regarding a commercial dispute between two indigenous companies,” reads the statement dated January 17, 2011.

“The Boka Auction Floor will not open unless Zitac is given a tobacco auction licence. The recovery of the tobacco sector is going to be affected negatively if farmers experience marketing problems. It is unfortunate that TIMB is indifferent to people who are bent on looting other people’s business.”

Philemon Mangena, Zitac CEO, referred questions relating to this document to Dengu after being asked to specify the action the company would take if Boka Investments starts operating at the auction floors at the start of the tobacco marketing season on February 15.

“I didn’t do that document. Let me give you Caleb Dengu’s number. He is the one who wrote it. I haven’t read it so I can’t comment on it,” said Mangena in a telephone interview on Tuesday. Repeated efforts to get comment from Dengu were in vain as his mobile phone continued to ring unanswered.

TIMB, Zitac further alleged, should not “take sides” in the dispute adding that the industry regulator should be “instructed” to grant them a licence, arguing that the firm has a running lease agreement of the Boka Auction Floor. Boka Investments is seeking to nullify the agreement signed in 2001 after blaming Zitac for breaching the contract.

However, in what could be a forerunner to anticipated drama at the auction floors, the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board on Wednesday said two auction floors including the disputed Boka Tobacco Auction Floors would be opened to the public by mid next month despite concerns raised by Zitac.

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