SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: Salaries Cut At ZBC As Drama Over Looting Scandal Continues

The staff at Zimbabwe's public broadcaster ZBC, many of whom have not been paid for several months, were dealt another blow Wednesday when the information and broadcasting Minister announced their salaries will be cut back to the levels they earned in 2010, with immediate effect.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who took over the portfolio in Mugabe's new cabinet after the disputed elections last July, addressed journalists in Harare where he revealed more details of how senior managers criminally abused funds and other assets at ZBC over the last four years.

Moyo said salaries had been negotiated and approved by the former board chairman, Cuthbert Dube, "without the knowledge of the ZBC board" and they were therefore "illegal".

The controversial Minister sacked Dube and the entire board last week, accusing them of abusing funds. The former chief executive, Happison Muchechetere, was reportedly earning $40,000 a month at the time he was fired, while ordinary staff have gone without wages for the last 7 months.

It was also revealed Wednesday that ZBC's top four executives received home loans of about $200,000, paid by the public broadcaster, and also received various other housing allowances. These were also approved by Cuthbert Dube.

Moyo told reporters that about 85 permanent employees at ZBC were also only receiving wages as part-time workers. In addition 99 students were earning salaries while claiming to be interns. The Minister explained that as a result, the state broadcaster was insolvent and could not sustain the current wage bill.

He further warned that those found guilty "shall with immediate effect be dealt with in terms of the law in order to hold them to account and recover from them any proven loss of ZBC funds of assets".

But Moyo's sincerity and motivation are being questioned by observers and activists in Zimbabwe, who say they want to see how far the ZANU PF minister will go to prosecute officials from his own party.

Journalist Francis Rwodzi, who has been speaking to ordinary Zimbabweans and human rights activists in Harare, Gweru and Kwekwe, told SW Radio Africa that many believe Moyo's actions are part of a broader ZANU PF plan to divert attention from the real bread and butter issues.

"Civil society players say we need to be careful about this so-called blitz on corruption and trusting Moyo. ZANU PF is failing to deliver on their election manifesto and don't want the people to focus on that," Rwodzi explained.

Meanwhile Muchechetere has also been linked to $1 million scandal in which he is accused of inflating the purchase price of a radio outside broadcasting (OB) van from a Chinese company.

According to the Daily News newspaper, the State broadcaster entered into an agreement with the China National Instruments Imports and Exports Corporation sometime last year, for the purchase of an OB Van worth between $100,000 and $200,000 on the real market.

But Muchechetere is alleged to have connived with officials at the Chinese company and inflated the price to $1,050,000.

Some Zimbabweans, commenting on developments at the ZBC online, said they want to see real action taken to hold those responsible to account.

One reader said: "Hapana nyaya apa (There is nothing to talk about here), we all know this government has a lot to account for in the past 20 years. If they are serious they should set up a commission of inquiry to look into all government expenditure for the past 20 years. Panofiwa".

Another questioned Moyo's sincerity and motivation, saying: "Ane vanhu vake vaanoda kuisa mumaposition iwaya. zvingwarirei izvozvo", meaning "He has his own people that he wants in those positions. Be aware of him".

And yet another had a suggestion: "Cut the salaries for the executives, not the rest of the employees wanzwa. Please bear in mind these people are already earning peanuts."

Journalist Rwodzi agreed, saying: "People are really concerned about the amounts of money that chefs are taking home at government institutions while the other workers are failing to get anything for months. They are concerned about the state of the country when these chefs are not being held accountable."

Minister Moyo told journalists that the process of selecting an independent auditor to look into ZBC will start next month and a new board would be appointed soon, after the forensic and audit are completed.

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