Golden Sibanda and Africa Moyo
INFORMATION Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Supa Mandiwanzira, says State-owned mobile telecoms company, NetOne, chief executive (CEO) officer Lazarus Muchenje “fired” nine senior managers outside the knowledge and authority of the board or his ministry; the primary proxy of the State.
He said the affected senior managers were reportedly dispossessed of their work mobile phone sim-cards and denied access to private belongings in their offices before being force-marched out of NetOne premises on July 27, 2018.
Minister Mandiwanzira made the remarks in his submissions as the 16th respondent to an urgent chamber application Mr Muchenje filed at the High Court on August 3 seeking to reverse the minister and the board’s decision to restore the contracts for the nine senior managers he terminated.
Other respondents cited in the urgent chamber application to the High Court case HC 7144 /18 are the affected nine senior managers, six board directors and the Chief Secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet.
The NetOne chief executive claimed in the court documents that the contracts for the senior managers had expired and that he had acted on authority legally vested in him in making the decision not to renew the contracts.
But the ICTs minister said the terminated contracts had two months to run and the CEO had to buy the senior managers out of their respective contracts due to lapse in two months.
“(The) board has informed me that the terminated employees had apparently been paid out the remainder of their dues according to their contracts, which are expiring on September 30, 2018,” the ICT’s minister said.
Minister Mandiwanzira added that the board expressed concern at what they saw as “abuse of public funds in that the senior managers were being paid out of the remainder of their contracts, but with no work towards NetOne”.
Mr Muchenje has since been suspended by the board of directors for an indefinite period without full pay and benefits pending an investigation into allegations of gross misconduct, which the board has levelled against him.
Minister Mandiwanzira said when he got wind of the fact that Mr Muchenje had fired the nine senior managers, he contacted vice board chair Sydney Nyandoro to verify the reports and told him that the CEO had claimed that he had approved the terminations.
“I phoned the chief executive officer on the evening of Friday July 27, 2018, to enquire on whose authority the terminations were effected. The applicant (Muchenje) stated in the phone call that he had acted with authority of the board and promised to phone me back with confirmation and proof of the said authority. As a matter of fact, that phone (call) is yet to be received to this day.”
Further enquiries from four board members, the minister said, revealed that they had been unaware of the contract terminations for the senior managers and expressed ignorance, shock and disbelief at the terminations.
“In performing my oversight responsibility through the board of directors of the company and my conversations with the board it was clear to me that the board was unaware of the applicant’s actions prior to the sudden and explosive terminations that are subject of the application,” Minister Mandiwanzira submitted.
The minister added that while the CEO, who was only five months into his job, had cited performance as the reason for terminating the contracts for the nine senior managers, the CEO had not instituted any performance evaluation on the management for presentation to the board.
He said that it was curious that the CEO had chosen to take the unilateral action of terminating the nine senior managers’ contracts on the eve of the 2018 harmonised elections, a decision also likely to cause operational challenges.