Oliver Kazunga, Senior Business Reporter
THE National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) says it is awaiting Cabinet approval before going into the market to seek potential investors for recapitalisation.
The company’s operational performance is in the negative as the parastatal, which needs about $1,9 billion in the long-term, struggles to clear a legacy debt amounting to $144 million. NRZ board chairman, Mr Larry Mavima, told Business Chronicle that the issue woud be tabled in Cabinet soon.
“The issue relating to the floating of tender is going to be presented to Cabinet by the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development (Dr Joram Gumbo).
“So, I think it will be a bit premature for us to comment on that until after Cabinet deliberates on the paper that the minister will present,” he said.
“However, I am positive that Cabinet will respond positively to the recommendations that we float a tender inviting financial institutions and technical partners to the recapitalisation process.”
Mr Mavima was appointed to the helm of NRZ in March last year and has said that the turnaround of the entity hinges on securing strategic partners who will inject working capital into the parastatal.As part of its turnaround strategy, the railway company plans to rehabilitate its infrastructure relating to signal equipment as well as securing new wagons and locomotives among others.Responding to allegations by National Assembly legislators last week that NRZ employees were being treated like slaves as Government officials grounded the firm through corruption and looting, Mr Mavima said:
“I think it is ridiculous that anybody in this day and age can say somebody is being treated like a slave here. We do have a Constitution, we do have very clear and well defined labour laws that should any of the employees feel aggrieved, they can pursue their challenges to whatever actions . . . to the Labour Court through the labour processes.
“I believe it’s ridiculous and emotional for honourable members to issue a statement such as that. I also believe that even the employees have joy to appeal not only to the Labour Court but even to Parliament if they so feel that they are being treated as slaves.
“Our doors remain open, my doors remain open. If there are any employees that feel that they are being treated as such, they can approach the office of the board chairman and raise their issues and we will sit down as people. And reasonable people, I doubt can overlook those particular complaints.”
Mr Mavima added that NRZ employees had workers’ representatives and unions, which should be the first to come out and say the treatment they are receiving was tantamount to slavery.
“But they have not done so, I think whoever (Parliamentarians) should look at facts as facts not to discuss alternative facts.
“Parliament is a serious place of business, they should discuss serious issues. The workers are very well represented by the workers’ unions and committees and should we have a situation like that, surely they can bring it up,” he said.
Last year, NRZ employees embarked on a strike that lasted for almost three months demanding their salaries which have been unpaid for 15 months. The railways company, which is facing challenges such as ageing infrastructure and equipment that has surpassed its designed lifespan, vandalism, huge debt and lack of cheap credit lines for retooling, reportedly owes workers about $80 million.
“The situation (payment of full salaries) remains unchanged. It has gotten better to the extent now that at least we are guaranteeing employees at least 60 percent of their salaries. Unfortunately, it still remains that the money is just not there, if the money was there, we would simply pay the employees their money.
“We don’t want to have a situation that is uncertain, where job action may be called upon at any time,” said Mr Mavima.
“No employer would want that kind of situation. I am glad and praise our employees that they understand this. But maybe, it is you the newspapers that continue to light these unnecessary fires. The employees clearly understand the situation of the organisation and are willing to work with us in finding a solution.
“We can’t to continue to talk every month about workers’ salaries that are 15 months behind. Until the fortunes of the company change, we will not be able to address the salary arrears”.