Former National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) board chairman Alvord Mabena says only experts have the key to unlock solutions to the crisis facing the State-owned rail company as there was no substitute to knowledge and expertise.
Mabena was fired as NRZ’s board chairman in November last year after an 18-month stint at the helm. He previously worked as general manager until 1999.
In an interview with Standardbusiness, Mabena said the rail industry was complex and needed expertise.
“There is no substitute to knowledge and expertise. They [NRZ] must bring people who understand the industry very well,” he said.
“This is because our industry is a very complex one. For the first 20 years, the country accumulated a lot of experts but unfortunately, as a country we are unable to use our experts in our industries.
“As a result, all the experts are scattered all over the world benefitting other countries. That is a tragedy for our country.”
Mabena said his board had moved mountains in restoring normalcy at NRZ which saw the company moving more cargo in 2014 than in the previous year.
“It was the first board to convene an annual general meeting that was attended by officials from the President’s Office, ministers and others,” he said.
“The minister commended the board. In our annual report which was presented to the ministry and Parliament, the board was able to steer up the organisation for the first time with higher revenue for 2014 than the previous year.”
Under the Corporate Governance Framework approved in 2014, parastatals and state-owned enterprises are supposed to produce audited annual reports and hold annual general meetings.
Mabena said NRZ “achieved fewer deficits than the previous year, as well as reduced expenditure” under his reign.
He said the board benchmarked the operations of NRZ to ensure that what it was doing was aligned to government directions.
“We filled key positions that were necessary to drive the organisation. That we did expeditiously. We had filled all the positions at management levels. The most important one was the post of general manager. We did it professionally and got the best person suitable for the job,” he said.
NRZ has been operating without a substantive general manager since 2013 following the death of Mike Karakadzai.
The board shortlisted a successful candidate but the new minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Jorum Gumbo ordered the board to redo the process. It is understood that the Mabena-led board felt the directive was out of order.
Mabena said the selection process had come up with “a candidate who was experienced in railway industry in the country, region and international and was a Zimbabwean”.
Until his dismissal, Mabena said NRZ was beginning to take-off in the right direction and the board was confident that it would achieve its objectives of addressing the financial backlog in terms of wages.
“Unfortunately, I was dismissed for the reasons yet to be advised. All that momentum was stopped dead on its tracks. We still don’t have a substantive general manager long after the board completed its duty as mandated by the previous and current minister,” he said.
Did he clash with Gumbo on how to run NRZ?
“We never clashed at all. In my last meeting with him he said he was very impressed with what we had been doing,” Mabena said.
NRZ had been eyeing a $650 million loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). Nothing came out of the negotiations.
“There were some meetings that were taking place and he [Gumbo] asked me to get closer to them [DBSA). We were in the process of engaging them and it was promising. Unfortunately, that died,” Mabena said.
Mabena’s board was appointed by former Transport minister Obert Mpofu.