HCC to apologise to Econet
By Letwin Nyambayo
The Harare City Council (HCC) has said it will apologise to Zimbabwe’s largest mobile telephone company Econet Wireless after municipal officials attempted to steal humanitarian aid meant to stem Zimbabwe’s deadliest cholera outbreak in a decade.
Econet founder and executive chairperson Strive Masiyiwa blew the whistle on the attempted fraud after the telecommunications giant had pumped $10 million to contain the outbreak of cholera that has so far killed 32 people, mostly in the capital, Harare.
Masiyiwa — who overcame protracted government opposition to launch mobile phone network Econet Wireless in 1998 — had responded to a crowd funding campaign launched by new Finance minister Mthuli Ncube on microblogging site Twitter to contain the rampaging outbreak, being fuelled by contaminated water and collapsing infrastructure.
The disgusted billionaire took to social media to express disappointment on the attempted fraud of humanitarian aid.
“One of the saddest things that happened last week when Econet announced that it had set aside $10 million to help with support to buy medicines and materials, was the number of suppliers and even officials in some of the affected municipalities who tried to defraud our company by offering things at highly inflated prices. Gloves worth $3 were suddenly worth $65. That is just pathetic.
“I have told my people to prepare lists of anyone who wilfully tries to exploit the situation. After this crisis is over, we will go after them on this platform, naming and shaming them,” he tweeted.
After the 57-year-old businessman expressed outrage, HCC quickly posted on its Twitter page that it had suspended four of its officials suspected of inflating prices for goods and services to be used in the fight against cholera.
The Zimbabwean businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist’s post went viral, attracting unprecedented public opprobrium.
Econet — one of the largest companies on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange in terms of market capitalisation — is the largest provider of telecommunications services, providing solutions in mobile and fixed wireless telephony, public payphones, Internet access and payment solutions.
Harare mayor Herbert Gomba told the Daily News that council takes full responsibility for the regrettable attempted fraud of a company with a Christian-based vision and mission and a broad strategy for social and community investment, run under the “Econet in the Community” banner.
“We intend to write to Masiyiwa,” a remorseful Gomba said.
“Collectively council is responsible but individually those suspended are responsible. So, as the mayor, I have considered writing to him, apologising and stating what
Gomba said council “intends to set up a special committee to look into what happened, what is currently happening, the pricing, the quality, the supply of the goods bought and whether it all conforms to the procedures of council and the procedures of the State procurement regulatory authority of Zimbabwe.”
He said there are still ongoing investigations on the four suspended officials.
“We suspended four officials from the Harare Water department procurement division and these are Philimon Rwafa a procurement and stores officer, Smart Mhuka a buyer, Tawanda Marange a cadex clerk and Tafadzwa Reza a buyer.
“Allegations are that they inflated the prices for the materials that were supposed to be bought for cholera.
“Investigations are ongoing and we will look at what they did and what items they had inflated,” he said.
It is not immediately clear if criminal charges will be preferred against the fraud-accused officials.
Local Government, Public Works and National Housing minister July Moyo said donors should not be discouraged by the conduct of the four but continue to come through.
Government has declared a state of emergency that has seen the ban of public gatherings, closure of some schools around the epicentre of Glen View, and also banned the sale of meat and fish by vendors in affected areas, said the new Health minister, Obadiah Moyo.
Police are enforcing the ban to the hilt.
Moyo slammed the fraud and vowed to halt the theft of humanitarian aid by corrupt municipal officials.
“Immediate action was taken, and fortunately we know them. We are glad that the system caught those who were trying to be mischievous,” a tough-talking Moyo said.
“We are now alert that there are some people who have wrong intentions on the cholera funds.”
This is not the first-time officials have taken advantage of the cholera fund. When cholera struck Zimbabwe in 2008- 2009, the international community cried foul over their resources being abused as their monies were not accounted for and fatalities increased among those infected. At least 4 000 were killed during that era.
The incubation period for cholera, which spreads through ingestion of faecal matter and causes acute watery diarrhoea, is a matter of hours. Once symptoms start, it can kill within hours unless the patient receives treatment.
The World Health Organisation has rolled out an emergency treatment programme, based on the vestiges of Zimbabwe’s shattered health system, to try to catch new cases early and stop the explosive spread of the disease. DailyNews