Brian Chitemba and Kuda Bwititi
ZESA Holdings executive chairman Dr Sydney Gata has been suspended from office and will be blocked from accessing his office at the power utility’s headquarters, the Minister of Energy and Power Development, Fortune Chasi said yesterday.
Minister Chasi told our Harare Bureau that Dr Gata would be barred from Zesa premises until due processes have been completed.
“Our initial stance as Government was to observe corporate governance and give the board an opportunity to deal with the matter. This entailed giving the board time to investigate the serious allegations against Dr Gata. But alas! He (Dr Gata) decided to lock the board out of Zesa premises. He took the view that no board meetings would take place as a way to stall progress.
He then proceeded to bar the board entry into Zesa premises and ordered security to lock them out. He refused to accept the letter of suspension and instead proceeded to suspend the entire board as if he had the powers to do so. He doesn’t. It’s a very strange and unusual action suggesting that something was seriously wrong.”
As a consequence, Minister Chasi said processes are underway to ensure that normalcy is restored at Zesa.
“This will include barring Dr Gata from Zesa for a defined period to allow the investigations to happen. We want to be very procedural and need to. We will continue to assume that he is innocent until proven guilty.
“He needs to make it easy for us otherwise the irrational actions he is taking — like firing fellow board members — will cause everyone to think otherwise,” he said.
However, a defiant Gata yesterday said he was not going anywhere, saying “corruption was fighting back at him” for his attempt to expose the rot at the parastatal. He said he must be given time to implement a forensic audit that recently exposed massive graft at the parastatal.
Dr Gata said his lawyers had advised him to stay put because a meeting that was held to suspend him was non-procedural after a top Zesa manager, who is currently on trial for alleged corruption, presided over the proceedings.
Yesterday, the drama at the power utility continued to fester after about a dozen leaders of workers’ unions affiliated to Zesa converged at the power utility’s headquarters in Harare in solidarity with Dr Gata, saying he was being victimised for fighting corruption at the parastatal. The workers pleaded with Minister Chasi to reverse his decision.
Dr Gata, who has had an on-off relationship with Zesa, is facing a slew of allegations including allocating himself five vehicles and fuel for private use, using $10 million to fund Christmas parties, hiring ghost employees on Zesa’s payroll and using his private entity to carry out projects meant for Zesa.
He also stands accused of interference with disciplinary processes relating to a Mrs Norah Tsomondo.
Commenting on the allegations in an interview with our Harare Bureau, Dr Gata denied any wrongdoing.
On the allegations of allocating himself the five vehicles, he said: “Two vehicles, a Toyota Fortuner and Mazda BT50 are not owned by Zesa but individuals not related to me. The third vehicle a Toyota Fortuner is owned by Zesa and is under the custody of the Group Legal Advisor and Corporate Secretary being used for board purposes.
The fourth vehicle is owned by Zesa…but has been recently allocated to the Loss Control Department to carry out investigations on vandalism. The fifth vehicle was a pool vehicle which was ordinarily parked at the company basement for use by various drivers.”
Dr Gata said the Christmas parties did not cost $10 million as alleged and were an investment in staff morale.
He said the allegation on installation of solar equipment was false while the hiring of “ghost employees” was above board.
On Mrs Tsomondo’s case, Dr Gata said the matter had been decided well before he joined Zesa.
Asked if he was not defying the Minister by continuing to report for duty, Dr Gata said: “In terms of the law, I am not. I have been advised by my lawyers that the so-called suspension was unprocedural. If anything I am carrying out instructions which are in my contract of employment that the Minister himself gave me.
“In my contract, the Minister advised me to personally ‘take a hands-on approach to the litany of issues bedeviling this important utility’. I urge the Minister not to obstruct my terms of reference by being influenced by suspected criminals at Zesa.”
Dr Gata said he was seeking the way forward from the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Dr Misheck Sibanda, to whom he wrote giving his side of the story. In the letter to Dr Sibanda, Dr Gata alleged that Minister Chasi had invited Zesa Company Secretary Mr Saidi Sangula to be part of a meeting to decide his fate, despite the fact that he is currently before the courts on an alleged case of corruption at Zesa.
In a statement yesterday, the Zimbabwe Energy Workers Union, whose leaders converged on Zesa’s headquarters to show solidarity with Dr Gata, said the suspended Zesa boss was being persecuted.
“It appears to us that some of the allegations are being peddled by some members and remnants of the previous administration who, after being fired and or being prosecuted for their malfeasances over the years, are now trying to hit back through raising allegations designed to malign and demonise Dr Gata and his management team,” said Zimbabwe Energy Workers Union general secretary Mr Martin Chikuni.
Secretary-general of the Energy Sector Union of Zimbabwe Mr Gibson Mushunje said Dr Gata should be allowed to implement recommendations of the forensic audit.
“Some of the current members of the Zesa board and senior managers (names supplied) agreed to some of the shady deals at Zesa. They were fingered in the forensic audit. We think it’s more urgent to implement the forensic audit than to persecute Dr Gata. We are not defending Dr Gata but we are defending the truth. Let’s have implementation of the forensic audit first before other issues,” said Mr Mushunje.
Mr Pearson Madzongwe, a representative of the Zesa group of companies, appealed to Minister Chasi to reinstate Dr Gata.
“Our final plea to the Minister of Energy and Power Development Honourable Chasi and His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe Cde Emmerson Mnangagwa is to give Dr Gata a chance to turnaround the fortunes of Zesa as we the workers are absolutely happy with his selfless leadership and vision. Had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic, we would have staged a solidarity march to protect our leader from being harmed by corrupt and fired managers who were fingered in the forensic audit.”
Leader of the Zesa widowers and pensioners Mrs Enea Maroveke demanded Dr Gata’s immediate reinstatement saying he had made “a remarkable impact” since his appointment.
In his letter dated July 30, 2020 to board members, Dr Gata declared that he was still in charge and disputed the fact that Mrs Tsitsi Makovah was the acting board chair. Approached for comment, Mrs Makovah declined to discuss the matter and referred questions to the Energy and Power Development Ministry.