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Boardroom squabbles erupt at NetOne

By Fidelity Mhlanga

Boardroom squabbles have emerged at State-owned mobile telecommunications company, NetOne, resulting in the resignation of board chairperson James Mutizwa at a time management is expressing concern over undue interference from the board.

NetOne chief executive Lazarus Muchenje
NetOne chief executive Lazarus Muchenje

Audit committee chairperson Sibonile Dhliwayo and her human resources counterpart, Keumetsi Mpandawana also quit last week.

The remaining board members are Susan Mutangadura (vice-chairperson), Winston Makamure, Rangarirai Mathias Mavhunga and Paradzai Chakona.

In a letter to Information Communication Technology minister Jenfan Muswere, Dhliwayo said the board lacked professionalism.

“The reason behind my resignation is that the board is currently being run in an unprofessional manner which makes it difficult for me to render my services and responsibilities in a professional and objective manner,” Dhliwayo said in a letter dated February 5.

In a leaked memo dated February 6, seen by NewsDay addressed to Mutangadura, NetOne chief executive Lazarus Muchenje expressed concern over “excessive” audits which he said were impeding company operations.

Muchenje also raised alarm at the interference of the board, saying it was also impacting on revenue generation by the company.

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“I would like to formally advise you that the draft forensic audit was presented to management on the 17th of January 2020, an additional five internal audits have been performed by our internal audit team,” he said.

The audits were on bureau de change operations, lending of furniture to the Zanu PF conference for the purposes of furnishing the President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office, donations, and customer acquisition incentive as well as petty cash.

“These audits were in addition to other ongoing statutory audits for financial statements, Deloitte forensic audit for 2015-2019, Zacc (Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission) audit on fuel procurement and security payments and Zimra audits,” Muchenje wrote.

“In total, NetOne currently has nine ongoing audits which is quite excessive. These internal audits as per my understanding have been requested by the NetOne board of directors.
Management is concerned by the fact that the additional five internal audits were requested by the board and commenced immediately after the Deloitte draft forensic audit report was presented to the board and management.”

He bemoaned that the audit team was bypassing management in the audit processing, something that is against audit professional standards.

“Management’s view is that these audits are currently disrupting and negatively affecting NetOne’s commercial turnaround which to date has been successful. To prove this, under current management NetOne’s monthly revenue increased by 977% from $9,9 million in February 2019 to $107 million in December 2019,” Muchenje said.

“NetOne is the only profitable telecommunications company in Zimbabwe with our hyper-inflated profit after-tax for the year 2019 higher than $500 million which compares very well to the loss after-tax of $1,2 billion reported by Econet in half year results for August 2019.

“Unfortunately, due to the disruptive impact of these audits among other interference from some board members, our monthly revenue for January 2020 for the first time since February 2019 went down month-on-month by 6%.”

Mutangadura, who is now acting chairperson, could not be reached for comment, while Muswere said he had conducted exit interviews with members who resigned and would not rescind their decisions.

“I can confirm that three board members resigned from NetOne. We are in the process of conducting exit interviews. We have done two of the three so far. One of the two told us the reason for resignation was to pursue personal interests. We are left with interviewing one who is outside the country. We will not disallow people who want to resign from doing so,” he said.

Muswere said he would wait to see the audit reports from government agents.

“The minister does not have control over the carrying out of audits. Institutions such as Zacc, Zimra and AG’s Office are allowed by the Constitution to carry out periodic audits. I will not act on suspicion,” he said. NewsDay