A LOCAL commercial bank, BancABC, last week issued a statement denying President Robert Mugabe’s son Chatunga Bellarmine never applied for a loan at the bank. This followed our publication of a story titled Mugabe Son Denied Loan on September 30 in which senior BancABC officials revealed that the bank had denied Chatunga a US$380 000 loan.
Editor’s Memo,Faith Zaba
While the statement appears to have emanated from the bank’s Johannesburg office and issued through the Harare officials, the local managing director (MD), Joe Sibanda, still cannot escape blame because the questions were sent to him.
BancABC must stop playing games. We gave them ample time to respond. We did not just send questions via SMS, but we also made several calls to the MD seeking comment ahead of the publication deadline. The MD had 10 hours to respond before the paper went to bed. He still took the whole week after the publication of the story to respond. The bank only responded to the report through the press release six days after publication
That the MD of a sensitive institution such as a bank takes a week without responding to such a story is either a case of incompetence, or even just pure dishonesty. The MD should have instead timeously responded and given his side of the story. On the day in question, the turnaround time should have been faster, considering that he was in a meeting with his boss, ABC Holdings CE John Vitalo whom he could have consulted.
This is not the first time that we have sent BancABC questions they have chosen to simply ignore.
What makes it more upsetting is that the MD has previously met with our senior editorial staff and managers during which he was told of the need to urgently respond to questions sent to him. But hardly a week or two later when we sent him questions, he went back to his usual way of ignoring them.
If he could not be bothered to answer the questions personally, he could have dispatched his public relations personnel, which includes his internal PR department, Magna Carta and Lenox Mhlanga. Surely they are not paid just to host luncheons. After publishing the statement, his PR team continues accosting us for lunch to clean up the mess.
The MD is now inviting us to watch CCTV footage, yet it is possible to edit out the segment showing Mugabe’s son at the bank. Why did he not invite us on the day the story came out?
The bank must be helpful and should engage with the media. Ducking and diving is not the way to respond to such issues. In this day and age where news is real time, you cannot take seven days to respond. The MD was given enough time to respond but he squandered the opportunity. There is simply no justification. At least this week Sibanda made efforts to engage when asked questions about the top 20 non-performing loans at the financial institution.
For BancABC to say the “aforementioned article is unsubstantiated, entirely fabricated and malicious” is just being deceptive. The MD issued a statement, in which he does not deal with the issue but instead chooses to malign the newspaper for enquiring before publication. However, what is clear in his response is that he did not give facts. He was just dismissive and totally unhelpful.
To underline his deception, the MD only responded to part of the story. There were issues of underperforming loans raised in the article. It said as of June BancABC’s total politically exposed persons debt portfolio stood at US$2,28 million. The list of the bad debtors includes politicians, bankers, military commanders and judges, although the majority of BancABC’s politically exposed persons are sugarcane farmers in Chiredzi in the Lowveld under an out-grower facility. The MD chose not to respond to these issues. Actual non-performing loans at the bank fell from US$114 million to US$83,4 million. But the MD instead decided to cherry-pick in his responses.
The MD could have handled the matter better but he chose not to. Even in the pre-internet era, people never took seven days to respond. We hope that in future they will change their ways, to the benefit of both BancABC and the media.