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Tobacco shady dealings exposed

BRIAN CHITEMBA
A SHOCKING dossier has laid bare how kingpins in the tobacco industry are involved in side marketing, abuse of grower numbers and a syndicate of Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) workers in shady tobacco buying schemes.

The tobacco industry is a US$1 billion sector, which is among top foreign currency earners after gold and other precious minerals. The majority of A1 and A2 farmers, who benefitted from the land reform, are into tobacco farming.

Confidential documents accessed by journalists this week revealed a complicated syndicate of manipulation of tobacco prices at the detriment of the farmer who is wallowing in debt.

The Zimbabwe Independent probed TIMB spokesperson Chelesani Moyo who refused the allegations raised in the documents. She even threatened a lawsuit.

Moyo on Wednesday evening said: “From the questions received, like you rightfully put it, these are just allegations and as it stands, TIMB cannot comment on allegations. We would appreciate all the supporting documents to the issues raised to be shared with TIMB so that we can also undertake due diligence in verifying the allegations being raised so that we are better placed to give you a fair comment.

“Kindly note, such allegations if they prove to be unfounded, it is within our right as a board to pursue the legal route and ensure we file for defamation.”

The Independent then shared some of the documents with Moyo yesterday morning to prove the veracity of the allegations pointed out in the TIMB internal documents.

Moyo backtracked on her initial thinly veiled threats as she admitted that the Independent was on firm ground.

“TIMB wishes to confirm that the internal memorandums and documents shared are authentic. Some issues raised have already been addressed with the said companies having paid fines and administrative penalties. Corrective measures on other issues are still ongoing,” Moyo said yesterday.

“However, TIMB is displeased that such information has been prematurely made public thereby complicating execution of pending corrective action.”

Abuse of grower numbers

According to documents, former TIMB inspectorate manager Saviour Muvirimi, who was retrenched last week following clashes with the board’s top management, exposed how workers were involved in underhand dealings bleeding the sector.

On March 7, 2022, Muvirimi wrote to the TIMB top management highlighting some of the problems.

“Investigations by this office reviewed that there is rampant misuse of grower numbers within the tobacco industry mainly perpetuated by staff members employed by some contracting companies,” reads the memo. “More often than not, side marketing is being facilitated through these grower numbers as they are allocated to farmers thereby by-passing the stop order system.

“It is against this background that this office is requesting for all TIMB staff members national registration numbers in order to flash out any grower numbers issued but not being properly used.”

Muvirimi and his team of investigators from TIMB inspectorate department in November 2021 also probed how a top businessman’s grower number V110628 was abused by a tobacco contractor to buy 141 623kg valued at US$228 368 in the 2019-2020 season.

Shockingly, the businessman (name supplied) had not grown tobacco at his 14-hectare property in Chegutu ever since he was allocated the grower number in 2020.

The abuse of the businessman’s grower number by a tobacco contractor came to light after Zimra questioned him over allegations of tax evasion for 1 378 bales sold under his grower number in 2020.

Comment declined
The businessman declined to comment saying: “Sorry Brian that document is from TIMB and they are the originators of it and are the best people to answer all the questions you may have.”

However, Muvirimi and his investigating team established that the grower number, which was given to the businessman had been transferred from a former employee of a tobacco contractor, which was a violation of Section 27(3) of the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Act (Chapter 18:20) which states that: “No person shall transfer to any other person the registered number which has been allotted to him and any purported transfer of such registered number shall be invalid.”

The TIMB investigative report revealed that the businessman’s grower number was not registered in the 2019-2020 under the TIMB system.

“Estimates for grower number V110628 were adjusted by TIMB registration on June 15 2020 at the behest of an unknown individual,” reads part of the document.

“… the company submitted a fake list of farmers it purported bought tobacco during the 2019-2020 marketing season in an effort to cover up for the tobacco it bought from farmers not contracted to it. Purchase of tobacco from farmers it did not contract was in violation of Section 5(1) of SI 61 of 2004 of the Exchange Control (Tobacco Finance) Order.”

Muvirimi then made recommendations that merchants and contractors as well as TIMB employees found violating the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Act must be charged.

“The veil on impunity must be lifted,” he wrote.

The TIMB inspectorate department also unearthed that some tobacco contractors were misrepresenting data by lying that they supplied farmers with inputs.

Farmers prejudiced
A survey on farmers from Karoi and Tengwe showed that contractors were buying the crop from free growers. Some of whom were never paid for their tobacco, thereby prejudicing them of thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, Muvirimi was summarily retrenched by the TIMB after being employed as head of the inspectorate for a year to June 8 2021.

In a letter dated July 29, 2022, TIMB head of human capital Tsitsi Murahwa retrenched Muvirmi and ordered him to stop reporting for duty from August 1.

Repeated efforts to get a comment from Muvirimi were fruitless as he was unreachable.

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