Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
THE Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has suspended the Belmont depot manager in Bulawayo together with his four subordinates for allegedly diverting subsidised mealie-meal and other Silo Foods Industries products to the black market.
Sources said the depot manager, Mr Stanley Chimakira, was allegedly working with his sidekicks in the sales department, Mr Buhle Dube and Mr Vincent Gwariro, in channelling the Government-subsided roller meal to the black market.
Mr Chimakira was also allegedly working with two others employees, Mr Tashin Kamangira and Ms Samkeliso Nyathi, who are both counter sales clerks.
The underhand dealings within the parastatal were recently unearthed following an internal audit, which was preceded by an investigation into operations at Silo Foods Industries in the city by a roller meal taskforce chaired by Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Raj Modi, who confirmed the suspensions of the five GMB employees.
The taskforce reported the matter to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc).
The recently constituted roller meal task force’s mandate is to ensure transparent and equitable distribution of the product throughout the entire supply chain.
Sources told The Chronicle that Mr Chimakira and Mr Dube were the ring leaders of the syndicate, which also includes some unscrupulous illegal traders who sell the roller-meal in United States dollars.
“The depot manager and people in the sales department operated as a syndicate to feed the black market with the subsidised mealie-meal. In some cases, you would see a 30-ton truck transporting mealie-meal to these pseudo shops and starving registered traders and other big supermarkets,” said the source.
The Chronicle established that soon after the maize taskforce unearthed the underhand dealings, an internal audit revealed that about 90 percent of the business transactions were not above board.
“The manager and his four subordinates at GMB Belmont depot have since been suspended indefinitely without pay and benefits pending hearings. The main reason behind their suspensions is that they were fuelling the black market by providing subsidised mealie-meal to unregistered traders in return for kickbacks,” said the source, who also revealed that a new team from Harare has been deployed to the Belmont depot.
“There is a guy from Harare who is now running the depot and he is being assisted by another one who came from the Gweru depot.”
Deputy Minister Modi said the suspensions follow investigations by his task force, which has since managed to identify syndicates causing artificial mealie-meal shortages.
“My taskforce team recently unearthed serious irregularities at the GMB depot in Belmont and the manager and his team were involved in diverting subsidised roller meal to the black market. As I speak, they have been suspended pending hearings,” he said.
“In fact, from the Government position, we are quite disturbed by what we have discovered and some of the culprits responsible for creating supply and distribution anomalies have been identified.”
Deputy Minister Modi said there are cases of Silo roller-meal in Bulawayo being sold on the black-market right in front of the Silo Shop.
“It is partly through these illegal vendors that we are conducting investigations and tracing it back to the source of the crime,” he said.
Investigations by the maize taskforce following their surprise visit to the Silo Foods Industries’ factory at the Belmont industrial area indicated that GMB employees were allegedly diverting the subsidised roller meal meant for retailers to the black market.
The taskforce also allegedly discovered an invoice book that was being used by the perpetrators of the scam.
Deputy Minister Modi said the task force is making follow-ups with major suppliers and retailers of mealie-meal. This follows critical shortages of the commodity on the market after Government re-introduced a subsidy programme to ensure that roller meal in particular, is available at an affordable price to consumers.
Zimbabwe’s annual maize consumption stands at 1,8 million tonnes.
Contacted for comment yesterday, GMB general manager Mr Rockie Mutenha feigned ignorance over the suspensions.
“I am not aware of the suspensions that you are talking about. As far as I know, those people who are purported to have been suspended are actually at work as we speak and you can even go there and check for yourself,” he said.
Last month, our sister paper, The Sunday News reported that Zacc discovered that some employees were allegedly channelling as much as 10 000 bags of 20kg roller meal to the black market. Consumers have been battling to access roller meal, which is presently being subsidised by Government.
The paper also reported that there was a cartel of retailers and vendors who were hoarding mealie-meal in Victoria Falls and selling it in hard currency to Zambian cross-border vendors on the black market.
Zambian media reports indicate that mealie-meal brands from Zimbabwe have flooded the Livingstone market.
The Zimbabwean products are sold at relatively lower prices when compared to the Zambian products due to the subsidy programme.
Deputy Minster Modi said they have extended their investigations to the country’s borders where subsidised mealie meal is smuggled out of the country.
“Our routine involves checking what the suppliers get and from who, names of retailers that received the product and the customers that bought the mealie-meal,” he said.
Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube recently revealed through the Zimpapers Television Network (ZTN) that smuggling of mealie-meal had become rampant. Besides mealie-meal, a variety of other products such as sugar, rice and juices are smuggled out of the country using both legal and illegal exit points.
According to investigations, some Government officials are said to be heavily involved in the scam.
Last month, Parliament heard that GMB senior executives were allegedly allocating subsidised maize to millers who are allegedly diverting it to the black market and countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).