'Bopela not contracted by NetOne'

HARARE - One of the companies believed to have been at the centre of NetOne Cellular (NetOne)’s alleged looting Bopela Group (Bopela) has never been contracted by the mobile phone company directly, documents show.

This also comes as Alex Marufu’s board has “virtually confirmed” it no longer wants Reward Kangai’s leadership dispensation and Information Communication Technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira’s efforts to clean up the State-owned utility have been mired in Zanu PF’s factional fighting.

According to information at hand, Bopela’s first job with NetOne — to build base stations — was when it was subcontracted by Sectional Poles (Sectional) of South Africa in 2011 and the latest work to erect towers is via an agreement with Huawei Technologies (Huawei) — an equally under-fire contractor from State functionaries.

“Sectional Poles has (an) extensive trade history and relationship with Bopela… Over the past five to six years, Bopela… has been responsible for the civil… construction of more than 150 types of masts… and has proven themselves as a very capable civil contractor,” Daan van der Sijde said in a five-year-old letter, adding the parties had also collaborated in Botswana and Zimbabwe.

“Bopela… also has extensive experience… and equipment to execute their responsibilities... Sectional Poles has approved and certified their tower foundations… as per client’s requirements and specifications,” said the Siemens partner.

But Marufu’s board does not seem convinced about the company’s relationship with NetOne, hence the move to suspend Kangai and Monday’s affirmation that an investigation was underway to unpack this “unholy alliance”.

On the Huawei contract, Agrippa Masiyakurima’s firm has been hired to erect about 100 towers — of up to 35 metres — countrywide and as part of the $298 million mobile broadband expansion project.

And as the riveting drama around Zimbabwe’s second largest mobile  operator continues, it has emerged that moves to eject Kangai started as far back as September 2015 after the long-serving NetOne chief executive lurched into the crosshairs of Marufu’s board for refusing to employ, among other ministerial proxies, new chief financial officer Sibusisiwe Ndlovu.

Further to that episode, the trained engineer was “threatened with dismissal” in a September 4, 2015 letter signed by deputy chairman Sydney Nyanungo on behalf of Marufu — a new set of documents and government dossier on the saga indicates.

“In the event that these (appointment) letters are not dispatched by end of day, or a reasonable justification provided for failing to do so, please be aware that the board will... initiate disciplinary proceedings against you for insubordination, which may result in your suspension and ultimately dismissal,” it said.

Apart from allegations that the status quo was dragging its feet on an organisational transformation process, Kangai’s “old order” team was also accused of sabotaging NetOne through incompetence, ineptitude and focussing solely on “technical aspects of the business”, and rather than profitability.

However, the suspended CE shot back at Marufu and particularly allegations of delaying the recruitment process, saying the State-owned utility needed to adhere to its security clearance procedures.

“…internal candidates were given letters advising them of their appointments to be effective from September 1, 2015, as some of them had already recently been security cleared... In respect of external candidates... we had not received such security clearance, hence the delay in providing the offer letters,” Kangai said.

While the correspondence also shows that the NetOne boss’ troubles escalated after his obvious reluctance to confirm Ndlovu, the confidential documents also show the man has had to defend himself against a “malicious campaign based on misrepresentations that he had offered to resign” when he had not.

In one of his key arguments against the former MetBank senior executive’s employment, Kangai believed she had “failed to make material disclosures about her probation-period pregnancy and also sabotaged the network by starving 66 base stations of fuel”, and which resulted in serious income losses.

Nonetheless, Ndlovu has retained the board and shareholder’s faith, and support — such that she has become a key factor in the old regime and suppliers such as Bopela’s possible downfall.

As it is, one of the major issues she has red-flagged and centering around a subscriber-acquisition tripartite arrangement between NetOne, Zanu PF youths, and Masiyakurima’s company, has now proven to be a serious political powder keg in President Robert Mugabe’s troubled administration.

Since Kangai was felled, rumours have also persisted that Bopela had sucked $80 000 out of the State-run entity and yet it was a loan it had requested to pay Pomona Quarries, — for stone aggregates — and which has been duly repaid through a third party.

On the other hand, Mandiwanzira’s decision to hire Megawatt Energy (Megawatt) to review the Huawei data project has attracted scorn and charges of “graft” since it was done without relevant approvals — an issue confirmed by Marufu.

“While the board is considering... potential savings that could arise, the board has made it clear to Megawatt that a formal procurement process has to be followed before any company can be engaged,” the NetOne chairman said, adding “the board was now drafting some reference terms for… use in the engagement process”.

In short, Marufu said, the company was “not contracted to Megawatt and any engagement will have to be subject to the board procurement and State procurement board rules”.

Mandiwanzira has not only defended his decision on the basis that he had Mugabe’s backing in pushing for reforms at NetOne, but it would have been ridiculous for the company to “probe itself” hence the  job was handed to Xiaidong Li’s firm.

Moreover, the deal was structured in such a way that the auditor would pay himself on what he would have recovered and the $4 million tab was being revised downwards anyway.

And even, though, the Nyanga South legislator’s investigation is likely to unearth cases of outright fraud and prejudice — for long talked about in State corridors since last year, and — arising from over-inflated procurements, Mandiwanzira’s detractors are sharpening their knives over his political career.

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