FORMER NetOne chief executive Reward Kangai’s bid to block the recruitment of his successor following his unceremonious exit from the state-owned mobile phone operator last year suffered a major blow after the High Court reserved judgement on his urgent chamber application filed last Friday. He was also challenging the legality of the termination of his employment contractKangai was sent on forced leave in March 2016 after the company’s board sanctioned a forensic audit into the affairs of the country’s second largest mobile phone operator.
By Bernard Mpofu
He was suspended from work without pay and benefits on October 3 after an external auditor PriceWaterhouseCoopers completed a board-sanctioned probe into the goings-on at the mobile phone operator.
However, Justice Priscilla Chigumba on Wednesday reserved judgement on the matter.
In his urgent chamber application, Kangai said he was legally NetOne’s CE despite being forced out after NetOne decided to buy him out of his contract which was due to expire in June 2017. The closing date for the NetOne vacancy notice is May 5.
“I aver that I am still the respondent’s (NetOne Cellular Pvt Ltd) incumbent chief executive officer as respondent’s purported termination of my contract of employment is unlawful and a nullity. Moreover, the legality of the respondent’s actions is still to be determined by a court of competent jurisdictions under the applications aforementioned,” Kangai averred through his lawyers Tendai Biti Law.
“I have a reasonable fear and well-grounded apprehension of injury that the respondent will fill up my position before the court reaches a decision in the applications aforementioned.
“There is a grave possibility that I will suffer irreparable harm should the respondent fill up my position before the real issues are determined by the Court in the pending applications.
“I aver that an interdict in the face of pending litigation involving the legality of the respondent’s purported termination of the contract of employment is the only available remedy which will avert injustice in this instance.”
On October 3 2016, the NetOne board led by immediate past chairman Alex Marufu withdrew charges against Kangai but extended his forced leave to October 31.
“The withdrawal of charges does not, however imply and must not be read to mean innocence on your part, and the employer’s rights remain fully reserved, in terms of Labour Civil and/ or Criminal Law, as may be appropriate,” Marufu wrote.
Court papers show that his contract was terminated on October 12 on three months’ notice which ran from November 1 to January 31. He was paid out cash in lieu of notice.
Following the termination of the contract, Kangai through his lawyers, then wrote to the board challenging the termination of the contract and the disciplinary proceedings that were initiated by the company.
“The way you are treating our client in casu, is reflective of a public board that has no respect to the basic human and labour rights as protected in the Labour Act as well as the Constitution of Zimbabwe. We also find it unacceptable, that you proceeded to write the letters in question when you knew that, your initial disciplinary proceedings were already being challenged in the High Court of Zimbabwe,” Biti wrote in a letter to Marufu dated October 14.
Peter Chingoka replaced Marufu as interim NetOne chairman in December 2016.
Scandals at NetOne were unearthed last year revealing that the mobile phone operator engaged a local contractor Bopela Group led by Agrippa Masiyakurima to undertake a base station project without a contract amid disclosures that the contractor erected a base station at his wife’s house in the capital without the company’s approval.
This was first revealed in the first draft of an audit report on NetOne titled Provision of Comprehensive Forensic Investigation Services to NetOne Cellular Services compiled by Pricé WaterhouseCoopers Zimbabwe (PwC) on behalf of the Auditor-General.
This audit report also noted that the company corruptly, with the blessing of Kangai, paid rental fees to Masiyakurima’s wife in advance, in clear violation of a lease agreement.
The report also notes through a review of payments made to the Bopela Group in the period under investigation that no purchase order exceeded US$300 000.
“Based on the statement from Mr Masiyakurima, it appears as if the NetOne technical team intentionally circumvented state procurement regulations,” the report reads.
The report further says that in July 2015, Bopela Group secured an US$80 000 loan from NetOne to construct base station foundations, but the loan was repaid by a third party with no interest.
“According to the acknowledgement of debt, NetOne had engaged Bopela to construct 20 tower foundations for pine tree towers and Bopela had agreed to provide such service. Documents further state that Bopela requested a loan for US$80 000 to purchase required concrete materials from Pomona Quaries in Harare. The material was for the construction of 20 foundations,” the report reads.
“The loan amount was to be paid directly to Pomona Quaries within seven days of signing the acknowledgment debt.
“Debtor was expected to be repaid within 30 days from date of payment to Pomona. The loan would attract 51% interest per annum.
“The loan was secured by a mortgage bond registered over a property owned by Agrippa Masiyakurima, Number 514 Ruwa Township of Stand 2015 Ruwa Township held by Agrippa Bopela Masiyakurima under Deed of Transfer Number 0005412/14 (This is the same site Bopela changed base station sites without documented approval from NetOne).”
The auditors, the report further reads, obtained a Domestic/Loan Remittance Application form from Standard Chartered Bank Zimbabwe dated August 14 2015 with the loan repayment details showing that the repayment was made from Coram Mashuta’s account.
The US$80 000 was paid into NetOne account 02400973700 held with Stanbic Bank.