11 January 2013

Zimbabwe: U.S.$5,5 Million Sparks Row At Anti-Graft Commission

ZIMBABWE Anti-Corruption Commission investigators are up in arms with their employer over the disbursement of US$5,5 million provided by the central bank in 2008 for housing. The money was reportedly given to ZACC by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the two parties on October 10, 2008.

Its purpose, according to the workers, was for capacity building and skills' retention.

ZACC, through the Attorney General's civil division, filed a response to the application saying the allowances and benefits claimed by the investigators were not conditions of service.

The commission says the funds extended to them by RBZ were simply to sustain the operations of the commission and that they did not form part of the conditions of service.

The 26 investigators, who are represented by Harare lawyer Mr Joel Mambara of J Mambara and Partners, bared all in a claim filed for arbitration last month.

They say out of the US$5,5 million and other funds provided under the MOU, no allowances or houses were provided to them.

"The claimants managed to lay their hands on an MOU between the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and ZACC on capacity enhancement and skills' retention dated 10 October 2008.

"This money was paid over to the respondent. Not a single penny was paid to the claimants in the form of allowances. To the claimant's dismay, the former commissioners bought themselves houses and other assets.

"All the money was diverted to personal use. One wonders whose skills were to be retained?" read the statement of claim.

Although the bulk of the investigators got vehicles under the RBZ scheme, some of them did not get anything.

In the investigators' statement of claim, ZACC promised to pay school fees for the workers' children, but nothing was ever done.

It is the investigators' argument that ZACC promised to provide them with accommodation, medical aid and group life cover, but nothing was done.

Arbitrator Mr Rodgers Matsikidze would next week hear the grievances, which include a claim of at least US$1,2 million for allowances and several other benefits.

The investigators, who are expected to fight corruption and other criminal cases, are reportedly earning salaries and allowances of about US$300 monthly.

It is the investigators' argument that the commission was not properly taking care of their welfare, breaching sections of the Labour Act.

Mr Matsikidze is expected to hear the oral evidence in the matter next Wednesday.

He should have heard the matter on December 11, but he deferred the matter to next week after ZACC failed to attend the hearing.

Mr Matsikidze found ZACC to be in wilful default and urged the commission to take the matter seriously by seeking legal assistance on how to handle the matter.

"With greatest respect, I am convinced that the respondent is therefore in wilful default. When a matter is allocated to me, I sit as a tribunal vested with the same powers as of the Labour Court.

"Parties should appear and state their defence. It is advisable for the respondent in matters like this to seek legal advice as to what it means when a matter is referred to compulsory arbitration," read part of the arbitrator's remarks.

Mr Matsikidze directed the investigators to file their statement of claim by December 19, which they did and the commission had up to January 4 to respond.

However, the commission contends that the financial assistance in question ceased after RBZ's quasi-fiscal operations stopped.

ZACC said since 2006, investigators have been operating without conditions of service and that they were still operating like civil servants in the same grade with theirs.

The commission said the previous commissioners never invoked section 14 of the Anti-Corruption Act, which differentiates civil servants and employees of the commission.

It is only after the new commission assumed office when the need for the conditions of service was realised, ZACC says.

ZACC argues that it was still in the process of crafting the conditions of service for the commission.

Investigators say they did not have handcuffs and other basic tools of the trade.

They also want risk allowances, mobile phones and airtime allowances, transport allowances and the 13th cheque.

It is the investigators' concern that the commission was in the habit of unilaterally varying contracts of employment from time to time, a development they say was not in line with labour laws.

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