Zim officials fingered in steel company probe

Officials interviewed by Zimbabwe’s National Economic Conduct Inspectorate (Neci) over the alleged looting by senior politicians at the state-owned steel-making enterprise Zisco, have threatened to spill the beans.

Zisco employees and its Botswana subsidiaries, Ramotswa and Tswana Steel, as well as investigators of the alleged graft, told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that they were ready to reveal the names of top government officials allegedly involved in pillaging the firm.

This comes as Industry and International Trade Minister Obert Mpofu backtracked on promises to expose the “underhand dealings” at Zisco.

Investigations by the Independent shows that the Zisco scandal is easily the biggest case of high-level corruption to rock the government since independence in 1980.

Information to hand—including the names of the culprits still undergoing verification—indicates it involves members of the Presidency, Cabinet ministers, MPs and Zanu-PF officials. The editor of a local newspaper as well as company executives have also been fingered.

Zisco is one of the largest state-owned enterprises in Zimbabwe. Its principal activities are the production and marketing of iron and steel. In the past it has signed agreements with several British companies but recently lost a lucrative $400-million contract with an Indian company, Global Steel Holdings.

The Reserve Bank said in July it had saved Zisco from closure by providing an emergency Z$2-trillion (in old currency) lifeline. Production at the company had plunged by 88% from 14 200 to 1 600 metric tonnes in February. The firm is saddled with foreign debts of over $126-million.

Whistleblowers said they would not allow authorities to sweep the issue under the carpet as they had provided the investigators with detailed information. The information clearly establishes the systematic looting of public assets and attempts to use Zisco as a vehicle for self-enrichment.

“We are going to release the information when the right time comes if they continue trying to hide the corruption at Zisco,” a senior Zisco official said.

“People from Neci led by their deputy director came to Redcliff and went to Botswana to probe the issue and we gave them all the information. So what’s the problem?

“If they believe they can manage to conceal corruption and then blame us for what happens at the company, then they should think twice. We will expose them sooner rather than later.”

The Independent‘s contacts in Botswana said three Neci investigators had visited that country from July 24 to August 3 last year to gather information. The Neci detectives went to the Grand Palm Hotel & Convention Resort in Gaborone where government officials are said to have squandered Zisco money on expensive drinks and food almost every weekend.

The resort, formerly the Grand Palm Hotel Casino Resort, is now a five-star hotel and is located just outside Gaborone.

“The Neci people from Zimbabwe came here and we gave them all the information, including documents, to show who was booked here, when and for how long,” a source said.

A Zisco official said the raiding of the Midlands-based parastatal would make all previous government graft cases “look like a Sunday afternoon picnic when it eventually explodes”.

“It is outrageous and we will make sure it is not covered-up,” the official said.

“How can government try to hide corruption which is so brazen?”

The Zisco looting was done via bid-rigging of contracts and awarding of large sums of allowances in forex to top government officials and their cronies who claimed to be doing government business. Zisco also lost millions due to overpricing by suppliers.

The parliamentary portfolio committee dealing with the issue has failed to get the Neci report on Zicso, with ministers giving excuses as to why the report could not be released. - Zimbabwe Independent

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