THE Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), which is technically insolvent, is in debt to the tune of $25 billion, it emerged during a recent parliamentary debate on the parastatal’s debt as
sumption by government. Presenting a second report of the parliamentary portfolio committee on transport and communications on ZBC, now known as Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings, committee chairman Silas Mangono said the company had a $4,5 billion “historical debt”.
But other MPs said the current debt amounted to $25 billion. MDC MP David Coltart said ZBC was $25 billion in the red because “$13 billion in local currency and almost US$2 million (about $12 billion)” were due.
Mangono said ZBCwas in a deep financial crisis due to dwindling advertising and licence revenue as well as poor management. He said his committee heard from former managers that it should actually be closed down.
“According to Dr Gideon Gono (former ZBC board chairman), when your committee interviewed him on 20th October 2003, ZBC should not be operating if we look at the balance sheet of the company,” Mangono said.
“Mr (Munyaradzi) Hwengwere (former ZBC chief executive) echoed the same sentiments. He informed your committee that in December 2002, liquidation was imminent as was evidenced by daily notices of attachment on property.”
Mangono said ZBC’s situation was worsened by the current “institutional instability and ad hoc planning”. ZBC, which uses “archaic equipment”, has been unbundled into nine subsidiaries each headed by a chief executive. These include ZTV, Newsnet, National Television, On-Air Systems, Channel C, and four radio stations, Radio Zimbabwe, Power FM, National FM, and SFM.
A past parliamentary investigation discovered that the ZBC was stuffed with corrupt and incompetent employees. It also found that undue political interference was destroying the corporation.
Mangono said his committee came face-to-face with crude interference when “an official in the Department of Information and Publicity in the President’s Office had the temerity to query why the committee wanted to interview Mr Hwengwere”.
“This depicts interference in its worst form,” Mangono said. “Such interference, if not properly checked, can have a deleterious effect on operations of the (information) department and its parastatals.”
Coltart said assuming ZBC’s debt would not resolve the company’s crisis as long as it remained “overly partisan”. He said ZBC operated like the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation, a mouthpiece for the Rhodesian Front.
Another MDC MP, Welshman Ncube, said ZBC’s financial problems had worsened under the current “Minister of Propaganda”. He said $10 billion of the current $13 billion debt in local currency “is directly attributable to what can only be described as a misguided attempt to make all Zimbabweans think alike”.
Ncube said taxpayers were now being forced “dig deep into their pockets to pay for the folly of a few misguided politicians”.
Mangono said ZBC was biased in its news coverage, in particular during elections. He said it was also unable “to be there when it happens” because of “operational problems due to a depleted and antiquated fleet of vehicles”. ZBC also has “less than three cameras and a lot of obsolete equipment”. This explains, Mangono said, why “we hear the same news for the rest of the day, everyday, up to 6:00pm”.