By Martin Kadzere
NetOne chief executive officer Lazarus Muchenje remains suspended despite the relief order granted by the High Court on Tuesday to interdict the board from proceeding with a disciplinary hearing, the company has said.
The mobile phone operator wrote a letter to Mr Muchenje through its lawyers on Thursday advising that the High Court order only blocked the board from pursuing a disciplinary hearing, but he remains suspended.
“We have this morning (Thursday) been advised by our client that your client has presented himself at its office with a copy of the court order and it appears that he wishes to resume his duties as the chief executive officer,” NetOne lawyers C. Kahuni and Attorneys wrote.
“For a start, the final part of court order requires that the applicant’s (Mr Muchenje) legal practitioners’ serve the court order on either ourselves or our client.
“Further, your client well knows that he was suspended . . . on the 20th of February 2020 and the suspension still stands. The order handed to our client clearly states that the interim relief is that … respondents are interdicted from pursuing and disciplinary proceedings.
“Kindly advise your client to vacate our client’s premises as he is contravening the express condition of his suspension which requires that he shall not be allowed to access any NetOne’s office or communicate with any NetOne’s employees.”
Contacted for a comment, Mr Innocent Chingarande — Mr Muchenje’s legal representative — said it was untrue that his client had visited NetOne with the intention of resuming his duties as the chief executive.
“Our client has never set foot at NetOne (Private) Limited premises today (Thursday) as alleged in the letter by C. Kuhuni and Associates, which is dated 12th March 2020,” said Mr Chingarande.
Mr Muchenje was suspended on February 20 this year for alleged incompetence and negligence.
The company’s acting chief finance officer, Mr Tinashe Severa, was similarly affected.
However, Mr Muchenje approached the court seeking an order to nullify the board resolution to suspend him, arguing that the board meeting was not properly constituted.
He cited acting board chairperson Ms Susan Mutangadura and other board members — Messrs Winston Makamure, Ranganai Mavhunga, Paradzai Chakona and Dr Douglas Mamvura — as respondents.
But, despite being appointed on the NetOne board last year, Dr Mamvura was never invited for the meetings.
The board argues that the parent Ministry of Information Communication Technology and Courier Services never advised them of his appointment.
Some of the allegations levelled against Mr Muchenje include irregular procurement of fuel, unauthorised purchase of furniture and household goods, unauthorised allocation of company vehicles, withdrawal of fuel at the company’s depots, awarding himself benefits without board approval and failure to adhere to procedures.
The matter was heard before Justice Chirawu-Mugomba, who ruled in favour of Mr Muchenje, barring the board from conducting a disciplinary hearing. NetOne had appointed Retired Justice Moses Chinhengo to preside over the disciplinary hearing.
The parastatal, which was formed in 1996 as the first cellular network in Zimbabwe, is the country’s second-largest mobile phone operator with about three million subscribers.
Insiders believe the company’s falling revenue in the first two months of the year can be linked to the current boardroom squabbles, which began in January.
The infighting resulted in the resignation of board chairperson Mr James Mutizwa and two other board members.
In 2019, revenues jumped from $15 million to a remarkable $107 million in December.
However, as boardroom fights deepened, revenues for January declined by 6 percent to $102 million from $107 million.
In February, revenue further declined by 2 percent.
It is believed that the board and executive are expending a lot of effort and resources on the ongoing fights.
About nine audit reports have been produced over a five-month period from September 2019. The Sunday Mail