New boards: Patronage dampens revival hopes

WHEN President Robert Mugabe appointed his cabinet in September last year, he swung open even wider political patronage doors, letting in a legion of predominantly Zanu PF cronies who have little or nothing to show in terms of delivery despite serving for many years in successive governments.

Owen Gagare

This dealt a body blow to expectations among Zimbabweans for a lean performance-driven team with the capacity to steer the country out of a more than decade-long economic crisis.

Zimbabweans expected a healthy mix of seasoned and young technocrats in cabinet, but instead, Mugabe, as he was to reveal, chose to reward his cronies while trying to ensure regional and tribal balance as well as reward party officials deemed to have worked hard to ensure a Zanu PF victory. He did not necessarily look at the capacity to deliver.

Sadly, the approach seems to have been adopted by his ministers, if board appointments announced last week are anything to go by.

Perhaps the most surprising appointment was that of Godwills Masimirembwa as chairperson of the corruption-prone Central Mechanical Engineering Department (CMED) by Transport and Infrastructure Development minister, Obert Mpofu.

Masimirembwa made headlines in September last year when Mugabe, while officially opening the first session of the Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe, declared “zero tolerance” to corruption before angrily accusing the then Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation chairperson of demanding and receiving a US$6 million bribe from a Ghanaian tycoon seeking to invest in diamond mining in Chiadzwa.

Although Mugabe later exonerated Masimirembwa claiming he had been misinformed, Zimbabwe Independent sources insist some bigwigs had benefited from the deal, hence the climbdown.

Despite the exoneration, Masimirembwa’s re-appointment, approved by Mugabe, was least expected given the all-too-familiar public proclamations about Zimbabwe’s “zero tolerance” towards corruption.

As part of efforts to nip corruption in the bud, government has come up with the Corporate Governance and Remuneration Policy Framework and the Corporate Governance and Delivery Agency in the Office of the President and Cabinet following extensive media exposure of corruption and salary scandals at fiscus-bleeding parastatals.

It is hoped that by ensuring public officials adhere to the principles in the codes, officials will stick to good corporate governance principles, among them transparency and accountability while ensuring effective service delivery.

However, during the country’s unity government (2009-2013) state enterprises minister Gorden Moyo crafted the Corporate Governance Framework in a bid to rein in mismanagement at parastatals, but this was ignored by the Zanu PF-dominated coalition government.

Questions will be asked as to whether the new boards, whose appointments should have at least attempted to demonstrate government’s sincerity in fighting corruption and adherence to the codes, have the capacity to deliver given that they seem to be based on personal ties and patronage.

There is widespread perception that capacity and ability to deliver are secondary in the appointments and therefore Zimbabweans should not expect much from the boards; neither should they expect them to ensure corruption is stamped out of the parastatals.

For example Masimirembwa, who appears to be Mpofu’s blue-eyed boy, has been moved from one key position to another as reflected in Mpofu’s appointments. When Mpofu was industry and international trade minister, Masimirembwa was appointed chairperson of the National Incomes and Pricing Commission and when Mugabe moved Mpofu to the Mines ministry, Masimirembwa was appointed ZMDC chair.

As Transport minister, Mpofu last week appointed Masimirembwa to his current position at CMED, suggesting deep personal ties.

Zanu PF officials, including those who lost primary and general elections last year, dominate the boards announced by Energy and Power Development minister, Dzikamai Mavhaire, a move many interpreted as a way of rewarding cronies for party loyalty and ensuring they sustain their livelihoods.

Among others, former Lands and Rural Resettlement minister Herbert Murerwa was appointed chair of Zesa Holdings with Zanu PF’s director for economic affairs, Nyasha Mandeya, appointed a board member.

Former Masvingo governor and resident minister Willard Chiwewe was appointed to head the Rural Electrification Agency (Rea) board which is dominated by serving provincial administrators.

Zanu PF Manicaland provincial chairperson Ambassador John Mvundura was appointed chair of the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission Distribution Company and former ambassador and transport deputy minister, Zenzo Nsimbi, was appointed board member.

Mugabe’s nephew and former Zvimba East legislator Patrick Zhuwao, who lost in the party’s primary elections, was appointed vice-chairperson of the Zimbabwe Power Company board.

Bulawayo ZanuPF provincial chairperson Professor Callistus Ndlovu is a board member of the newly-established Kariba South Hydro Power Company.

Jacob Chademana, who lost in the Masvingo North Zanu PF primary elections, is a board member of the National Oil and Infrastructure Company board while former Bikita East legislator Walter Mutsauri chairs the PetroTrade board. Former home affairs deputy minister Shadreck Chipanga and Air Vice Marshal Henry Muchena (Retired), who now works for Zanu PF’s commissariat department, is also on the board.

University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said although there were some individuals with the capacity to be effective on the boards, the obvious patronage appointments were a cause for concern.

“Patronage is at the centre of how Zanu PF works and it’s reflected in presidential appointments, ministerial appointments and appointments at other levels. It is a key modus operandi because appointments are secondarily about merit and primarily about patronage,” he said.

“If you look closely at the appointments, you can also see who is associated with each minister even on ethnic or factional ties.”
Masunungure said some of the appointments were meant to rejuvenate the careers of people rejected by the electorate either in primary elections or national elections “through the back door”.

“The consequences of such non-merit appointments are that high efficiency can’t be expected considering that square pegs have been put in round holes, particularly in parastatals such as Zesa which are technical. You would expect technically competent people to be appointed to such key parastatals,” he said.

“The appointment of (Alvord) Mabhena (to the National Railways of Zimbabwe NRZ board) is good because he is a technical person who has the capacity to deliver. He was at NRZ for a long time and has a good record. He left NRZ quite healthy; so these are the sort of appointments that people look forward to.”

Mabhena was appointed by Mpofu as chairperson of the NRZ board. He is a former general manager of the parastatal.

People seem to know a good appointment when one is made, as reflected by the reaction of NRZ workers after Mabhena’s appointment. There is belief that his previous experience at the entity is what is required to pull it out of the woods.

Zimbabwe Amalgamated Railway Workers’ Union president Kamurai Moyo said in as much as Mabhena’s appointment could be good, they were not sure about the management team the former NRZ boss would be working with.

“His appointment can be good, of course, as someone who was once at the NRZ. He has knowledge of what happens in the running of the organisation,” Moyo said.

Railway Association of Enginemen president Norman Simba echoed Moyo’s sentiments, saying they were worried about the “hidden control” at NRZ.

“Once a railway man, always a railway man. Mabhena understands the NRZ and it depends on how he will work with management,” Simba said.

“Previously, as general manager, we used to interact very well. If he continues like that things might get better. There is, however, the issue of the controlling arm at the organisation which remains a worry.”

Sadly though, such appointments which inspire confidence are too few and far in-between as government places patronage politics ahead of professionalism.