GOVERNMENT has launched an investigation to establish the nature and extent of pilferage at the crisis-ridden parastatal, National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ).
This comes after an internal audit report recently exposed corruption and corporate governance rot at the parastatal allegedly by some of its board members, which the Zimbabwe Independent exclusively reported on.
An investigation by this publication revealed financial maleficence at the struggling rail operator, hamstrung by a US$575 million debt.
The audit revealed that some members of the NRZ board led by Martin Dinha, in collusion with senior managers, allegedly creamed off the ailing parastatal through allocating unapproved allowances and bonuses.
The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development, NRZ’s parent ministry, has activated an investigation to test the allegations.
Felix Mhona, the Transport and Infrastructure Development minister, said his office was seized with the NRZ matter.
“There have been various allegations raised at NRZ. I am handling the situation. Once we are done, we will issue a comment. If something happens definitely there is need to find out,” he said.
“That is the process which is ongoing. We want to find out what is really happening. You may have noticed that apart from allegations raised against the board, there were also counter allegations against the general manager.”
In the face of the swirling allegations of rampant graft at NRZ, Mhona underscored that a “holistic approach” was required.
“What is needed is a holistic approach. There are just many issues which have emerged. These issues range from allegations raised against the general manager, board and staff.
“You need to interrogate all these issues. So, it is a process which is ongoing. I just do not want to pre-empt what I have done so far. But I am working on the issues, both the allegations raised against the board and general manager,” he said, noting that the struggling state enterprise was on course implementing its revival strategy.
The audit report, which the Independent has seen, reveals details of systematic corruption at the state enterprise and rampant profligacy. It was for the year ended December 2021 and was submitted on March 31, 2022.
The Independent also understands that following the revelations, the NRZ board held a crisis meeting at the railway operator’s head offices in Bulawayo on July 24 and resolved to demote and then suspend acting chief finance officer Joel Lunga, named in the report.
Confidential minutes of the meeting seen by this publication this week, supported by a statement issued by the board a fortnight ago, also suggest that the board pledged its support for NRZ general manager Respina Zinyanduko, who is also being accused by senior managers implicated in the audit report, of mismanagement.
“The NRZ board appointed Ms Respina Zinyanduko to the post of substantive general manager in December 2021. This followed extensive vetting and subsequent approvals by the relevant structures of government and consent of His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Cde Dr E.D. Mnangagwa,” reads the statement.
“Ms Zinyanduko was appointed to deal with corruption and pilferage in the organisation. This then led to audits by the internal audit department to provide independent assurance that our organisation’s risk management and internal control processes are operating effectively. The audits unearthed various irregularities and those implicated are facing disciplinary action.”
Subsequent to this, a petition was allegedly submitted to Mnangagwa accusing Zinyanduko of ineptitude and practising favouritism at work.
The alleged petition bears only Lunga’s signature and nothing against the rest of the 20 names listed there.
In the petition, dated June 30, the aggrieved ex-employees demanded that Zinyanduko should be relieved of her duties, barely eight months after assuming the hot seat.
They also argued she employed her unnamed relatives, did not possess the relevant qualification and victimised them.
But Zinyanduko fired back in an interview yesterday saying she never did anything outside her terms of employment.
“The disciplinary proceedings I implemented were about board resolutions to which effect there are audit reports available. They (Lunga and company) should also share the allegations that they are facing for people to appreciate their alleged victimisation,” she said.
“On relatives, I wonder how these people, who joined NRZ, some more than 20 years ago, are said to be my relatives when I joined last year. Most of the people were already acting on those positions for more than six years.
“My qualifications and experience are well documented and no one can erase that with a campaign misinforming the public. Salaries, retrenchments and non-renewal of contracts all have board resolutions and the general manager is only an implementer,” Zinyanduko added.
The audit report particularly accused Dinha and Lunga of engaging in excessive profligate behaviour.
Dinha was accused in the report of spending weeks in top hotels and entertaining numerous unaccounted for guests at the parastatal’s expense.
Dinha blamed the board secretary for overstaying in the hotel mentioned in the report and for the double booking in his response documented by auditors.
“The duty of checking out of the hotel rests with the chairman’s secretary. She should have checked me out when she realised that I had moved out of the hotel,” he said in his remarks captured in the audit report.
The secretary, however, indicated that the Harare booking was made without her knowledge.
Efforts to get a comment from Lunga were fruitless.
Zinyanduko, who became NRZ’s first female manager in 2021, is expected to turn around the fortunes of the embattled parastatal, which at its prime was a vital cog in moving the country’s trade goods.
- Additional reporting by Own Correspondent