HARARE - Presidential spokesman George Charamba has been sucked into the Premier Service Medical Aid Society (Psmas) benefits saga amid revelations that he sat on the beleaguered medical funder’s main board and a committee, which approved Cuthbert Dube’s mega perks.
This comes amid revelations that the feisty government spin-doctor — along with new chairman Luxon Zembe — could have also racked thousands of dollars from the scandal-hit group and its associate companies, as they sat on at least eight of 13 sub-committees within the sprawling group.
Documents seen by the Daily News show that Dube was not only taking a $320 000 basic salary as at December last year, but was entitled to a $500 000 long service-award payment every five years, $50 000 travel allowance per trip and another $20 000 for his partner, unlimited fuel and free medical aid — yet he was also raking in $40 000 weekly towards medical treatment last year.
Although Charamba could not readily divulge how much he and many others had earned in Psmas board fees, company secretary Cosmas Mukwezha confirmed some of Dube’s perks.
Crucially, Charamba said he was “representing government’s interest as the the majority members’ employer” and that Dube’s remuneration was mainly driven by the outgoing chief executive, and a string of former chairpersons in line with a long-standing tradition.
“I am culpable to the extent that I didn’t ask the right questions. We found the machinery already in place. We fatally assumed government policy was being followed,” Charamba said, adding he was “the least paid board member” and further reminding the Daily News that even President Robert Mugabe was the Psmas patron.
The top civil servant said he had even “shot down” a proposal to pay board members who had not attended some meetings.
Asked whether he felt there was board culpability on the corporate malfeasance at the society, charamba said “there was a board within the board who in secrecy agreed on conditions of service.”
The top Mugabe aide said the rot was not institutionalised, but “reduced to the CEO (and) not members of our board” and even, though, the consequence was that it “besmirches the image of the whole board.”
And as the “corrupt salaries” scandal also takes a factional, and tribal tone in the Zanu PF government, information at hand shows that Charamba not only served on several Psmas subsidiary company boards, including Premier Service Medical Investments (Private) Limited (PSMI), but also sat on five key committees.
These include the benefits, co-ordinated healthcare and joint ventures committee, finance and budget, PSMI medical centre board committee and a fairly novel group chief’s conditions of service committee.
Between him and Zembe — cast as the new Psmas saviour — Charamba shared quite a number of board seats in the 17-member group along three other top government officials, including Higher Education permanent secretary Constance Chigwamba, Meiie Nemasasu and Public Service Commission staffer Pretty Sunguro.
These include PSMI — where Dube was given a 20 percent stake funded by the parent company — Claybank Clinic (Private) Limited, Dorothy Duncan Centre, Premier Optometry Services (Private), Emergency Medical Rescue Ambulance Services, Premier Service Clinical Laboratories (Private) Limited, Premier Rehabilitation Services and Premier Dental Clinics (Private) Limited.
With the other lot encompassing Medical Centre, Parkview Hospital, PMAC Properties, Premier Services Medical Healthcare (Private) Limited, Premier Service Hospitals Chiredzi, Premier Service Hospitals Shashi, PSMI Hospitals (West End Hospitals), Premier Service Pharmaceuticals (Private) Limited and Premier Service Radiology, the $310 million group is mainly funded by civil servants.
According to Charamba, nearly 80 percent of Psmas’s contributors are civil servants.
While Dube has turned out to be the fall guy, government insiders have also told this paper that the outgoing chief executive had a $220 000 half-yearly bonus along with his executives who were getting slightly less.
The managers, who include feisty Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) women’s league boss Mavis Gumbo and national football team doctor Nicholas Munyonga, were getting hefty salaries of $60 000-plus.
Amid revelations that Dube was raking an average $30 000 in board fees per month, which translates to $300 000-plus per year, it means the likes of Charamba and Zembe could have also made a tardy cool amount of cash.
For his “long-service award payments”, the ZIFA president could have pocketed a cool $2 million to date since he has been at the Psmas helm for 22 years. He also enjoyed unlimited hotel stay and grocery purchases.
Essentially, the expose shows that Psmas had a unique and top-hat plan or package for Dube, including 24-hour guards for his two northern suburb properties, maids, two chefs and gardeners and two drivers.
As things stand, Dube’s 20 percent stake in PSMI was allegedly funded by the mutual organisation “as part of his retirement package”.
However, the board has resolved to recall some of the perks, including the Psmas-funded mansions and vehicles.
And as the saga continues, pressure is mounting on government to act on these errant public sector bosses.