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Trim ministers’ powers: Gata tells govt

By Silence Mugadzaweta

ZESA executive chairperson Sydney Gata yesterday urged government to revise its architecture of public enterprises as well as clip powers vested in Cabinet ministers to enable the country to successfully implement its national projects.

Gata made the call when he and other Zesa executives appeared before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mines and Energy to give oral evidence on the power utility’s operations after a 2019 forensic audit exposed rot at the parastatal.

Zesa officials admitted that the US$250 million Dema power plant deal was awarded to Sakunda Holdings by the Office of the President under unclear circumstances.

The committee heard that another dubious deal was the Gwanda solar project awarded to businessman Wicknell Chivhayo.

The PME deal for the supply of transformers to Zesa by the Indian company also came under scrutiny.

“Our nation will need to revisit the subject of ministerial directives to public enterprises. When we consider the number of cases that lead to white elephant projects, that lead to failure to observe the provisions of the procurement Act, the Public Management Act, Corporate Management Act and others, it is this issue of directives,” Gata said.

“In most of the cases, what appears to have been happening was that there would be a businessman or business interest which is blocked politically for a particular project and then they bypass Zesa, they bypass a number of institutions and they make it to the minister.”

He said these directives might pass through the Cabinet to the project manager, making it difficult for those at the bottom of the pyramid to make any objections even if they knew there were discrepancies in a project.

“It eventually translates to a directive to do a particular project which may not be on the business plan of the government, and sometimes even when it is, the directive may specify a manner of its execution that is not consistent with our government,” Gata said.

The Zesa boss said it was highly unlikely for lower level managers to successfully overturn decisions around these projects, let alone write to express displeasure in the manner in which they are executed.

“I am yet to see a project manager or an accounting manager who has the courage to write back to the Auditor-General or Chief Secretary and say everybody above me was wrong. I am yet to see a project which was then stopped,” he said.

Gata said the country’s institutions should lessen the burden for lower level managers and carry out due diligence from the top.

He added that some lower level managers ended up being fired for executing such ill-considered directives.

Gata said he was aware that a number of people had been punished, demoted or even fired for failure to abide by such ministerial directives.

The 2019 forensic audit questioned the unclear circumstances under which the Dema deal was made. News Day

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