The story was based on a report by the National Economic Conduct Inspectorate (NECI), a department under the Ministry of Fina/nce, whose main duties comprise carrying out investigations into white-collar crimes and compliance auditing in both private and public companies.
NECI was tasked by the Minister of Labour to probe allegations against NSSA and its senior directors and management after reports that there was “massive fraud, corruption and abuse of power” at the institution.
It is not the first time NSSA has been investigated. Law enforcement agencies and organisations like the Anti-corruption Commission, Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and Office of Comptroller and Auditor General have previously done inquiries into its affairs.
NSSA, a statutory body tasked by government to provide social security to workers, invests pooled funds in different portfolios.
So our story was that NSSA is rotten to the core due to extended periods of corruption.
Apart from open corrupt activities, the NECI report also said NSSA directors and management splashed money in buying mansions and luxury cars for themselves, while contributors (pensioners are paid US$20 a month) struggle to lead decent lives after retirement.
At one time NSSA directors and management bought themselves vehicles worth between US$100 000 and US$230 000. The cars included Mercedes Benz S-class and a number of Jeep Cherokees. NSSA general manager James Matiza bought a house in Borrowdale for US$330 120 after securing himself an internal loan.
There are many other allegations in the report. We listed the allegations received by the minister which led to the investigation in our story last week.
Honestly, we find these sorts of excesses scandalous and insensitive. Most of the NECI’s findings demonstrate that corruption is rampant at NSSA, widely seen as a feeding trough for certain networks of politicians and tycoons in town.
But what was the reaction from NSSA itself and affected individuals? In short, it was ballistic. We received angry feedback, including retorts, protests and threats of litigation from various quarters.
The most important reaction came from NSSA itself, through public relations firm, MHPR Public Relations Consultants, fronted by Mike Hamilton. The thrust of their reply was simply to deny the allegations, pointing out that the accusations were “damaging”. While denying the claims, NSSA, including Matiza, acknowledged they had neither seen nor read the NECI’s report in question.
NSSA denied the allegations, saying its operations were “transparent”. In self-defence, it also wondered why the minister had done nothing about the report if NECI’s findings were true. Well, we wouldn’t know why, but what we do know is that it happens all the time.
Then without any sense of irony, NSSA concluded saying: “It is difficult to comment on a report that we have not seen.”
True. I rest my case. This is what I told Hamilton.
Another interesting reaction came from Shepherd Shara, former ReNaissance Merchant Bank (RMB) executive director-banking responsible for treasury, trade finance and corporate banking portfolios. Allegations against Shara are that he got or was involved in a deal in which NSSA through RMB and its associate ReNaissance Trading released US$10 million in a botched wheat importation deal. He denied the allegations, which is fair and fine.
But Shara, through his lawyers, goes on to demand that we pay him US$500 000 in “damages” to his attorney’s offices within a week, “failing which we shall sue you”!
Well, our story did not say Shara is corrupt but that he was investigated for corruption by NECI, which is a fact. Facing corruption allegations and being corrupt is not one and the same thing. Let’s be clear on that.
Otherwise, we would like to advise mainly NSSA that, instead of scrambling to deny these allegations, it must thoroughly investigate and deal with these issues. Corruption and rent-seeking behaviour, which have devastating economic consequences, apart from being morally repugnant, must not be tolerated.