Minister caught in messy scandal

By Everson Mushava INDUSTRY and Commerce minister Sekai Nzenza has been accused of failing to pay back US$8 000 she allegedly took from the corruption-ridden National Social Security Authority (NSSA) under the guise of doing ministry work, but converted it to personal use.

By Everson Mushava

INDUSTRY and Commerce minister Sekai Nzenza has been accused of failing to pay back US$8 000 she allegedly took from the corruption-ridden National Social Security Authority (NSSA) under the guise of doing ministry work, but converted it to personal use.

Nzenza took the money when she was Labour minister before she was shunted to the Industry minister by President Emmerson Mnangagwa a fortnight ago.

According to documents obtained by this publication, Nzenza was given US$13 715. 83 between November last year and April 2019 for her government foreign trips from NSSA coffers.

The Labour ministry has only paid back US$5 715.83 and advised NSSA that the minister should pay back the remaining US$8 000 because it was not used for government business.

Nzenza was given US$$6 500 for her trip to New York and the money was signed for by Victoria K Sigauke, her personal assistant on February 7 this year.

Another US$1 500 was paid on November 14, according to a letter to Nzenza by Emerson Mungwariri, the NSSA finance director. The money was for a trip to Morocco.

She was given another US$5 715.83 to buy an air ticket in March this year but the destination was not disclosed.

NSSA, in July this year wrote to the Labour ministry’s permanent secretary Simon Masanga demanding that the money must be paid back.

“We write to remind you of the attached amount of US$13 715.83 due to NSSA, which was advanced between December 2018 and April 2019 of which the ministry committed to settle on receipt of the funds from the Treasury. Your assistance will be appreciated in having these advances cleared,” read part of the letter by Mungwariri to Masanga dated July 19.

NSSA officials are now accusing Nzenza of converting the US$8 000 into her own personal use as the ministry only paid back US$5 715.

They said the minister was now hoping to pay back the money if she secures another international trip.

“The minister had offered to pay the balance using the 1:1 rate, but NSSA refused claiming it took the money from the Nostro account and can only accept hard currency or local currency using interbank rate,” a senior NSSA executive revealed.

Masanga said he was not aware of the outstanding amount as finance issues were handled by the finance director in the ministry.

“Financial issues are handled by the finance director, so I don’t know if the money was paid back or not,” he said.

Nzenza yesterday insisted that she got the money through a transparent process and that it would be paid back by the Labour ministry.

She accused unnamed NSSA officials of trying to tarnish her image by leaking the information.

“I made two business trips to Morocco and New York in November last year and February this year,” Nzenza said.

“On both trips, I chose to lessen costs and took no security and not enough hotel or car allowance.

“During the two trips there was no board at NSSA. The money was sent to me upon request during a crisis in Morocco and New York.

On the way from Morocco, my assistant and I spent the night on a bench at Heathrow Airport (in London) due to airline problems.   “NSSA came to the rescue and sent money so we could get home safe.”

She added: “I wrote to the chairman Dr (Cuthbert) Chidoori on the 25th of February to let him know that the ministry owes money to NSSA.

“I made him aware that this was a serious corporate governance matter and now that there was a board, any such situations should be managed through the correct channels.”

Nzenza said she thought Treasury, the Labour ministry and NSSA had settled the matter as far back as March or April.

“I am very surprised that the same people at NSSA who facilitated the transaction are saying they were ‘compelled’ or forced to do so,” she said.

“Given that my assistant and I were stranded on an airport bench for more than a day and risking another day, should NSSA not have assisted?

“These are smearing and slandering tactics I have already experienced since July when I was accused of having been given US$2 million and was on the run.”

She said NSSA bosses must attend to serious problems facing the national pension scheme, instead of leaking information meant to smear her name.

“There are big irregular corporate governance matters at NSSA than an inter-ministry administrative matter which should have been resolved by the same people passing on letters to the media to smear my name,” she said.

“The board at NSSA is now in charge and will work with management to ensure that such financial matters are attended to in a timely, transparent and accountable manner.”

Nzenza was recently accused of ordering NSSA to pay $1,8 million to a group of local experts she handpicked to unpack a forensic audit report produced by BDO Zimbabwe Chartered Accountants at a cost of US$120 000.

The report accused former Labour minister Priscah Mupfumira and former NSSA board chairperson Robin Vela of causing NSSA financial prejudice of up to US$800 million. Vela is challenging the BDO report at the High Court, while Mupfumira lost her ministerial job and was arrested for allegedly pilfering US$95 million from NSSA.

Nzenza, is also alleged to have handpicked a private local company to do an information communication technology health check on NSSA books without going to tender.

Meanwhile, the minister has also been accused of trying to impose her allies on NSSA after she allegedly initiated a move to replace the authority’s acting general-manager David Makwara with Arthur Manase, a board member.

Sources said days before Nzenza was moved to the Industry ministry, Chidoori wrote to Masanga advising him to fire Makwara to pave way for Manase.

Makwara would have joined 24 managers that are already on forced leave pending investigations to yet to be disclosed crimes emanating from the BDO report.

Chidoori had allegedly hinted that he would be taking over as acting NSSA GM in August, but later recommended that Manase must take over.

“In August, Chidoori indicated just in passing in one of our meetings that he would be taking over as general manager at NSSA. No one took it seriously at the time. 

“The minister later settled for Manase and a letter was only done two weeks ago long after the 24 managers were suspended,” a source said.

“The formal letter written by Chidoori to the permanent secretary advising him that they were removing Makwara, was supposed to be effective last week Monday, but was scuttled by Mnangagwa’s changes last Friday.”

Masanga allegedly refused to sanction the changes saying they should wait for the new minister Paul Mavhima.

Chidoori was not picking calls yesterday.

Masanga confirmed that he had spoken to Chidoori but said it had nothing to do with managerial changes at NSSA.

“Yes I told him that it will not be wise to do anything policy related until the new minister comes in. That I said but it was not relating to a specific issue,” he said.