US$3,5m vehicle scandal rocks govt

By Taurai Mangudhla

INDUSTRY and Commerce ministry officials are allegedly corruptly issuing import licences for second-hand vehicles while import licence books valued at US$3,5 million have vanished over the past two months.

Industry minister Sekai Nzenza is being accused of failing to rein in corrupt officials.

Apart from Nzenza, the ministry’s permanent secretary, Mavis Sibanda, and principal director Florence Makombe, have also been implicated in the matter, which has attracted the hawk eye of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc).

The matter was also reported to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).

Confidential documents seen by this publication this week show that four officials, including clerical staffer Andrew Mateveke, are on suspension pending investigations after the disappearance of about 12 import licence books valued at US$3,5 million.

It is also understood that Zacc has since arrested Matevere who is accused of issuing 350 licences.

Other ministry officials allegedly under probe were identified as Erica Mhaka and Mervyn Chiwayu.

The controversial licence regime came into place under Statutory Instrument (SI) I89 of 2021, which barred importation of motor vehicles that are more than 10 years old from the date of manufacture without clearance as the government moved to protect the country’s comatose vehicle assembly or manufacturing industry.

The missing licence books are believed to be a tip of the iceberg as intelligence details suggest that about 10 000 vehicles were cleared with backdated date stamps and licences.

A document submitted to the OPC suggests that licencing clerks and other staff in the ministry, working hand-in-glove with Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) employees, are receiving bribes to process fraudulent licences.

The confidential document describes the corrupt activities as sabotage and demeaning the strategic efforts to protect local industry.

“A preliminary assessment indicates that the beneficiaries of this scam may have raked in up to US$3,5 million in bribes within the last two months,” reads the white paper, dated June 30.

The paper recommended that the corrupt syndicates be charged with abuse of office.

“From the onset of SI 89/2021, looking at the estimated number of vehicles which were imported (10 000 motor vehicles) against the consideration being requested (up to US$350) we are looking at least US$3,5 million collected in bribes within two months,” reads the document, in part.

Sibanda and Makombe, submitted signed statements to Zacc investigators confirming that some licence books were missing from the ministry offices.

Three books were said to be issued without following the procedure and the accused official says his signature was forged.

Experts have since been hired to verify the claim, according to sources at the ministry.

Sources further indicated that there was an ongoing internal audit to ascertain the magnitude of the loss.

It also emerged that apart from vehicle import licences, the ministry has become a haven of corruption with officials receiving bribes to issue business licences.

Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda has also been sucked into the mess amid claims that he was alerted about the alleged corruption, but failed to act.

Nzenza confirmed the developments in an interview this week.

“The issue of licencing is a matter duly being investigated by the relevant authorities. This is also a matter under the purview of Zacc. The ministry continues to uphold principles of good corporate governance, accountability, transparency and zero tolerance to corruption as we move to implement the National Development Strategy 1,” she said.

Nzenza’s permanent secretary, Sibanda, declined to comment saying: “The case in question is already under investigation, which therefore makes it sub judice. As the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, we therefore cannot comment.

“As such, if you would still like to pursue the matter, perhaps you can redirect your questions to Zacc.”

Zacc spokesperson John Makamure confirmed that investigations were underway.

“The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission arrested Andrew Matevere, a Ministry of Industry and Commerce clerk, for fraudulently issuing 350 motor vehicle licences to importers of second-hand vehicles. The matter is now before the courts,” he said.

“We would like to place it on record that the matter is still under investigation. The arrest of Matevere does not in any way imply that the investigation is now complete. Updates on progress and outcomes of the investigation will be made public once the investigations are complete.

“In addition to conducting investigations for prosecution of the culprits in the case, the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission has carried out a comprehensive systems and compliance review of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce in a number of other areas unrelated to the matter you made an inquiry into. We have agreed with the ministry on a robust implementation matrix which will be monitored on an ongoing basis.”