/ 13 March 2014

‘Gono is set to replace Chinamasa’

Gideon Gono
Gideon Gono

President Robert Mugabe is contemplating a Cabinet reshuffle that could see Patrick Chinamasa axed as finance minister and replaced by former Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, according to Zanu-PF sources.

Gono has already been endorsed by the Zanu-PF politburo for a senatorial position in Manicaland to replace the late Kumbirai Kangai who died last year.

Although Gono was not initially on the list of candidates appointed by the party for the senatorial post – which Zanu-PF is entitled to under the country's new proportional representation system – the Mail & Guardian has been informed by senior government and politburo members that it was Mugabe who pushed for Manicaland to put him on the list.

In terms of a presidential proclamation that expired last December Shadreck Chipanga, a senior party member, should have replaced Kangai.

The statute had decreed that the successor to a deceased member would be the next person on the list submitted to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Chipanga was sidelined to make way for Gono, whose appointment to Parliament positioned him for the Cabinet appointment.

Mugabe's banker
Although Gono was inactive during the period of the unity government – largely because the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had become moribund when Zimbabwe ditched its own currency and adopted a multicurrency regime – he is widely believed to have propped up Mugabe's regime during the crisis period by printing money and supporting party projects through quasi-fiscal programmes.

A personal banker to Mugabe for many years, Gono is also credited with helping to set up the president's businesses.

Last month Mugabe told Chinamasa to find cash for improved salaries for civil servants or quit.

"At first he said we could not do it and I said: 'Well, if you can't do it, tell me [and] I will get someone to do it.' That is why he announced that salaries will be above … the poverty datum line," said Mugabe.

The government agreed to review civil servants' salaries in February, backdated to January 2014. But so far the payments have not been made.

A Zanu-PF politburo member claims that Cabinet appointments are a guessing game because they are not discussed by the politburo and "often even Mugabe's lieutenants are not informed in advance".

Several ministers could be affected by reshuffle
But the odds are stacked against Chinamasa in particular. "It's all pointing to Chinamasa's early exit from treasury. There is a rumour that Mugabe is thinking to appoint Gono and the vice-president [Joice Mujuru] openly suggested his name before the last Cabinet appointment," said the source in the politburo.

Another politburo member said it was likely a number of Cabinet ministers would be affected by the planned reshuffle. "We have heard … that we could have a reshuffle and it may also affect several ministers. Many of us think it's Chinamasa for obvious reasons, and [energy minister Dzikamai] Mavhaire. He is thought to have dismally failed in his portfolio," said the second politburo member.

Mavhaire is dealing with corruption at various companies that fall under power utility Zesa. Since he assumed office in September, the power supply situation has worsened, further weakening the economy. Mavhaire has also been in the ­spotlight after the government's mandatory ethanol blending resulted in a Constitutional Court case.

Several ministers linked to a "salarygate" scandal may also be moved to different portfolios. In recent months local media have reported that certain parastatal executives have awarded themselves huge ­salaries and perks, whereas low-level workers went without wages for months.

Ministers are said to have ignored the issue because they were also looting the parastatals.

Nicholas Goche, formerly minister of transport but now minister of labour and social welfare, is also likely to lose his job. He has been implicated in an Air Zimbabwe insurance scandal, but denies any involvement.

Other ministries that have not performed well include the ministry of industry and commerce, headed by Mike Bimha, and mines and mining development, headed by Walter Chidhakwa.

But both Bimha and Chidhakwa have family ties with Mugabe, which may protect them in any reshuffle.