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Axed Potraz bosses fight back

FIDELITY MHLANGA
The three Postal; and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) board members sacked in December last year have hit back at ICT minister Jenfan Muswere, questioning why he axed only them out of seven directors.

Matts Kunaka, Nobert Mugwagwa and Charity Kadungure were sacked under a litany of charges including defying directives to use the Universal Services Fund (USF), a multi-million-dollar package established to develop the telecoms sector.

 Muswere said in dismissal letters that the three failed to produce strategic plans.

 The Dorris Sibanda-led seven-member board was appointed by former ICT Minister Kazembe Kazembe in 2019.

Its term was due to end next year.

In a letter to Muswere gleaned by this publication, the members lambasted him for unprocedural dismissals.

“We state in no uncertain terms that the way you carried out the dismissals did not accord with the due process of the law and is in gross violation of our right to Administrative Justice,” they said.

“We take this opportunity to state why we believe that your discretion was improperly exercised in our case, both procedurally and substantively, for the following reasons; no opportunity was provided for the dismissed members to present their case prior to the dismissal decisions being made. The ‘hear the other side principle’ is an elementary due process virtue of our legal system, let alone the basic courtesy and the level of professionalism one would naturally expect in relation to high level public service positions at a strategic state entity like Potraz.

“In fact, the Act provides that when a board member resigns, they should provide the full reasons for doing so, a principle requirement that should equally apply to the appointing authority when it dismisses a board member,” the letter added.

The members said Muswere’s letter alleged that they were incompetent without referring to performance appraisals.

They said the dismissals were discriminatory and asked why, out of a full board, only those without links to government were fired and described Muswere’s actions as “cherry-picking”.

They demanded new dismissal letters stating “unique” reasons for their expulsion, or reinstatement.

“We require acknowledgement of matters attributed in this letter and a response from yourself confirming to us the position of the Corporate Governance Unit…pending a full performance review of each dismissed member…(with) explicit examples in areas where there was incompetence or negligence of expected deliveries from the other board members…and a public retraction should it be deemed that the dismissals were unfair and not conducted as appropriate and with due process,” the letter said.

They said claims that they failed to administer the USF were baseless because the economy has been affected by the Covid–19 pandemic since 2019.

 “Covid-19 caused huge disruptions worldwide and across the board in Zimbabwe as a whole,” the members said.

 “Instead, the board should be complimented for being prudent in paying out towards projects, funds that could have been lost as companies and workers remained locked out and not delivering. In most instances, these funds were budgeted for USF projects…and were rolled over, awaiting Procurement Regulatory Authority in Zimbabwe processes on procurements or for allocation of foreign currency by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe,” the members said.

They also questioned the criteria used to chop only three members leaving out others. The remaining members are Sibanda, Fradson Shavi, Gift Machengete, who is the Potraz director-general and a Mushininga  who replaced Tinashe Robin Tanyanyiwa.

 “There is also a sixth matter to address, which we will refer to as ‘Item 6’. This is concerning the fact that all allegations and reasons for dismissal were aimed at the board, meaning the full inclusive group including the other members, as the board was appointed under ‘joint and several liability’ to ensure cooperation, collaboration and contribution from all in group projects, in order to increase the chances of success.

“However, only three out of seven in the group were dismissed, and no specific reasons indicated on why those members were selected and dismissed, while others retained. This then begins to point to a targeted system, which would appear as a ‘witch hunt’.  In this regard, and in light of the above, this would imply that all members would need to be part of any negative review of the board in their performance rating,” said the letter.

Muswere said the dismissal was above board.

“We can’t have people sitting on money while we have somewhere it is needed,” he told businessdigest this week.

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