A motion moved last week by Matabeleland South Proportional Representative MP Mrs Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga (MDC) on the virtual presence of Wellcash Debt Collectors in most local authorities and parastatals, among other state enterprises, cannot just be taken as casual talk. Mr Speaker Sir, while it is true that there might be controversy on some of the issues raised by Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga's motion, particularly the allegation of unfair regional representation, it was on the virtual presence of Wellcash Debt Collectors in several local authorities and other state enterprises that every legislator concurred that her concerns had merit on whether it was not getting preferential treatment.
The issue of Wellcash was subsequently raised by several legislators led by Goromonzi West MP Cde Beata Nyamupinga (Zanu-PF), with the Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and National Housing Saviour Kasukuwere the following day in the National Assembly during question and answer session. There is need for the respective portfolio committee, Mr Speaker Sir, to get to the bottom of the matter on why Wellcash Debt Collectors asserted its presence in a manner that raised eyebrows.
Is it because it is so good that it has managed to outbid others? Has there been some tendering before settling for it? Quite clearly, Mr Speaker Sir, Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga, who is also a member of Public Accounts Committee, did her homework well in identifying where Wellcash was providing its debt collection services in respect of state enterprises. There were reports that in some instances it left a trail of destruction after it is alleged to have sold properties for residents to offset debt without a court order.
The question raised by Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga was why and how Wellcash Debt Collectors was contracted by several entities to do debt collection ahead of other companies. Is it that the debt collecting firm is always present when it matters for it to be identified by an institution and earmarked for such a lucrative job? Some legislators said it was getting 10 percent for every amount it recovered and if that is true, with Harare City Council owed $700 million, Wellcash would pocket $70 million for the service.
While the firm is domiciled in Harare, it was evident that it got contracts in areas like Bulawayo City Council, Mpilo Hospital and Mutare City Council. The gist of her motion was for Parliament to resolve that the Executive ensures that all processes of identifying providers of services to Government be conducted in a transparent and accountable manner.
"We have what has become the fastest money making business in this country, which is called debt collection. I looked at council, if you look at councils across this country; you go to Mpilo Hospital, they use Wellcash. Wellcash is a company that is domiciled here, but I went further to investigate because I am going to show you how Wellcash runs almost every other area you can think of from hospitals to municipalities," said Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga. She suspected that while Wellcash might on paper have four directors, who were little known, there could be big wigs behind it.
"Wellcash has four directors; I have them, John Mutonono, Cashington Mavunduke, Panganai Fobo and Lancilot Muswere; these are the four. I doubt that given the coverage that Wellcash has, it just cannot have these people, they must be some bigger force somewhere. I found out that Mpilo use Wellcash. I then checked with Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals and found out that they use Wellcash as well. What is worse is that when you then look at issues that are to do with Wellcash -- Harare City Council had removed Wellcash again before we knew it, it was back even though the councillors in Harare had raised concerns around Wellcash, which is why I am saying there must be some link somewhere and I am hoping that the Committee on Local Government is going to go on and do this investigation." Mr Speaker Sir, Mrs Misihairabwi-Mushonga did not end there, but raised concern on the legal implications of using debt collectors.
"If you go to the Legal Practitioners Act, the Legal Practitioners Act is very clear on who should operate as a debt collector. In fact from a legal point of view, what Wellcash is doing is actually illegal because the Legal Practitioners Act is very clear on who is allowed to send in a demand or send summons. You can only do it if you are a registered legal practitioner," she said.
"So, you actually do not just have a debt collector that has taken over the entire country, but you have a debt collector that is predominately violating the law and yet in all these councils, we have a legal counsel that sits there, how is it possible?" It was evident Mr Speaker Sir that concern over Wellcash Debt Collectors resonated with most backbenchers as shown by a barrage of questions directed to Minister Kasukuwere the following day during question time.
"I want to know what Government policy is with regards to local authorities that hire a creature called Wellcash Debt Collectors to charge residents outrageous interests when collecting their debts, especially in view of the fact that people think that it is not lawfully registered. Women out there are facing challenges of losing their houses because of Wellcash," said Cde Nyamupinga while directing her question to Minister Kasukuwere. The gist of Minister Kasukuwere's response was that he would look into the issue and take appropriate action.
"We have got to interrogate this matter, but I want to deal with this matter holistically -- that is why I said I will look at it and at the right time, perhaps issue a Ministerial Statement to Parliament on the matter," said Minister Kasukuwere. It is everyone's expectation, Mr Speaker Sir, that Minister Kasukuwere will give the issue due attention and get to the bottom of the matter before giving feedback to legislators.