A STANDOFF has stalled efforts to settle differences between Hwange Colliery Company Limited and its suspended senior officials who have threatened to sue for defamation if the struggling coal miner does not publicly apologise for corruption allegations levelled against them.
Hwange administrator Bekithemba Moyo is now racing against time to sort out the mess after a corruption probe against the managers proved to be a wild goose chase.
Moyo in August told the Zimbabwe Independent that he was extending an olive branch to six of the senior executives after he called off corruption investigations against them due to a lack of evidence.
Moyo went on to instruct lawyers representing Hwange — Dube Manikai and Hwacha law firm — to approach the affected executives informing them about the company’s offer.
However, company sources said while the executives expressed interest in taking up the offer, progress stalled after it emerged they wanted Hwange to also publicly announce that they had been absolved of any wrongdoing.
The executives, who have also hired their own attorneys, want Hwange to apologise and acknowledge that they had been wrongly accused as part of a turf war involving the axed Juliana Muskwe-chaired board.
Muskwe’s disbanded board indefinitely suspended seven executives, including the then acting managing director Shephard Manamike and finance and administration director Tawanda Marapira, citing allegations of corruption.
The board at the time alleged that the two made unauthorised payments which prejudiced the company of substantial revenue, including payments to some dodgy service providers.
It also accused senior management of diverting US$2 million, which had been set aside for development of virgin coalfields without the board’s authorisation.
However, there has not been progress in investigating them since the time the board was dissolved in October last year.
“The lawyer has approached some executives with a view to reaching a settlement with them. They indicated that while they were willing to take up the offer, they wanted the company to issue a public apology which would help cleanse their soiled images. This seems to have taken the company by surprise and they have been forced to weigh their options as it is feared the suspended managers may seek to file defamation lawsuit. So it’s a catch-22 situation,” an official from Hwange said.
Moyo declined to comment on the matter, saying there were ongoing negotiations which cannot be revealed to the public yet.
“Unfortunately, negotiations are still ongoing and therefore we can’t be negotiating in the public domain as that will jeopardise discussions. Once we have finalised (the negotiations), I will give you the go-ahead to talk to our lawyers,” he said.
The loss-making company is on the brink of collapse due to a myriad of factors, including mismanagement, sleaze and failure to invest in modern coal-mining technologies.