Minister faces corruption probe

HARARE - Industry and Commerce minister Welshman Ncube faces a “corruption” probe over the $750 million Essar Africa Holdings (Essar) takeover of the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company (Zisco).

This came up as his Zanu PF and mainstream Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opponents ganged up against him in Parliament yesterday.

Ncube, who leads a smaller faction of the MDC and has been a thorn in his larger rivals’ flesh, has been pushing hard to be a Principal in the inclusive government after Arthur Mutambara’s fall from grace.

William Mutomba, the Zanu PF legislator for Buhera and chair of the Industry, and Commerce portfolio committee, got a virtual unanimous decision and backing from the whole House, with mainstream MDC
MP for Highfield Simon Hove seconding the motion.

“We want to know what role the minister (Ncube) played in signing such a deal with 80 percent going to the investor and 20 percent for the country. If I was one of the Principals, I would have the minister fired. We are now seeing him distributing cattle and bicycles in the rural areas, and we wonder whether these are not the benefits from the Essar deal,” Hove said.

The Highfield MP said they had discovered — on a tour of the vast Midlands facility — that a huge chunk of a $5,2 million kitty from the sale of iron ore reserves had found its way into a ministry account instead of the former Zisco’s accounts.

Settlement Chikwinya, a Mbizo MDC MP, also said: “We know individuals (who have probably benefitted) in this deal and want a commission of enquiry to be set up. The nation must be fully informed on what happened. We want transparency.”

He however, told the House that Cabinet had approved the mega-million deal yesterday.

The MPs also queried why Obert Mpofu’s Mines ministry was not involved in the negotiation and signing of the Zisco deal with the Indian conglomerate.

In this regard, they want President Robert Mugabe’s executive team to review the deal and possibly renegotiate its terms.

After hammering out a $750 million steel production deal in March last year, Essar took a 54 percent stake in the new venture, while government and other minority investors retained the rest.

On the other hand, the parties created another mineral holding subsidiary called NewZim Minerals in which Mugabe’s government holds a 20 percent stake and the rest in the hands of the foreign investor — a situation that has caused serious friction and consternation in government.

Ncube’s opponents mainly accuse him of parcelling out a major share of the former Buchwa Iron Mining Company to Essar, although the latter says it expects to lift production at the former Zisco by up to 14 million tonnes of steel upon consummation of the deal.

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