Obert Mpofu: Mnangagwa’s tow-away pirate

Tawanda Majoni

When the military seized power last November and installed Emmerson Mnangagwa in Robert Mugabe’s stead, it claimed that it was flushing out criminals surrounding the ex-president so as to return Zimbabwe to sanity.

People didn’t mind that bluff for as long as Mugabe was gone. The big problem is that the new administration didn’t waste time cloaking itself with its own preferred criminals, and Obert Mpofu is an obese example of that. A tow-away pirate that leaves no doubt about the forked intentions of the post-Mugabe crew on our political high seas.

If there was any doubt that Mnangagwa’s anti-corruption charade is meant to just fool people into thinking that he represents a re-christened political order, Mpofu removed all that late last week when he appeared before the Mines and Energy parliamentary committee for an oral hearing on multi-billion dollar diamond leakages at the Marange fields during his tenure as the minister.

Mpofu was the Mines minister when diamond mining started on a large scale in the Marange fields in 2008. He was there until 2013 when Mugabe shifted him to a new portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle that followed the elections of that year. And that was also a period when diamonds worth billions of dollars disappeared from the gem fields. That was also a time when Mpofu started painting the city red with cash, buying whole towns, banks and newspapers overnight.

So, naturally, he owes the world a story. But then, what does he do when he appears before a statutory agency in the form of the Mines portfolio committee? He started accusing the chair of the committee, Temba Mliswa, of coming to the hearing with dirty hands. He accused Mliswa of having maligned him in the past and must, therefore, recuse himself from the hearing. Curiously, Mpofu briefly broke from the hearing to go and wash his own hands as if that symbolised something about his own past.

Never mind the fact that when Mliswa talked on radio in late January, all he did was to challenge Mpofu to give details about how he acquired his wealth. Mliswa didn’t invent that request. People have been asking questions about Mpofu’s mysterious wealth for the past 10 or so years. In any case, there is no way in which Mpofu could fault Mliswa here, to the extent of seeking his recusal from the hearing. The MP was exercising his constitutional right of freedom of expression.

Mpofu refused to respond to questions posed by members of the committee. His reasons for doing so are a thick web of absurdities. Mliswa aside, he claimed that he only heard about the hearing from newspapers. He accused the portfolio committee members of trying to lecture to him and boasted that he was a veteran lawmaker, having been an MP since 1987.

The pirate who, God forbid, is now heading the Home Affairs ministry, claimed that he had no obligation to answer to questions that related to a ministry he was no longer part of. For a measure, he tried to argue that the committee had no business interrogating him on an issue that he had been questioned on by a previous team.

Clearly, Mpofu’s fat arrogance blinded him from making the obvious distinction between a lecture and an oral hearing. Committee members were trying to ask him questions. Interviewing someone is not the same thing as lecturing him or her. This is particularly disturbing for someone who claims to possess a PhD. But then, the matter of how he acquired his PhD is an issue for another day. By the way, I was once a director at the university where he obtained his higher degree from, and, one day, the world will know what exactly was going on there.

It was weird for Mpofu to try and extricate himself from the hearing by staging a side show through a personal attack on Mliswa. I wouldn’t vouch for Mliswa as the cleanest person on earth, but it was wrong to aim at him personally so as to justify his refusal to answer to the committee members’ questions. Mpofu bragged about his seniority as a lawmaker, and his experience, unless he was just going to parliament to snooze all this time, must have taught him that there are procedures to follow when you are the subject of a hearing but have reservations about the composition of a portfolio committee. He must have written to the Speaker in that regard, but didn’t. Of course, it doesn’t wash for him to start lying that he only heard about the oral hearing through the papers. He was formally notified and the evidence is there.

But there are more serious concerns. Mpofu was blatantly wrong in claiming that he couldn’t respond to questions relating to the Mines ministry that he no longer headed. When the committee summoned him, it didn’t mean for him to start pretending that he was the Mines ministry spokesperson or something like that. It simply intended to get answers to what was happening when he was the relevant minister and diamonds were leaking from Marange as if it was a sieve.

The committee, just like the Thematic Committees, the Public Accounts Committee and Ad Hoc Committees, is an investigative entity that provides an oversight and watchdog role in considering public expenditures as well the administration, actions and policies of government and other departments. Nowhere is it given that, as it carries out its mandate, it must confine itself to sitting officers or officials in a particular department. That would render its interventions ineffective, unsustainable and impossible.

There are numerous issues that Mpofu, as the erstwhile responsible authority, must answer to—not the current minister—because he has intimacy with them. Some of them are, in fact, very personal. You can’t expect people to take you seriously by insisting that Mnangagwa must explain why and how Mugabe acquired 15 farms or let his wife run government from the bedroom. That burden lies squarely with Mugabe. Mnangagwa will definitely have his day in the dock when the time comes. For instance, he will have to say why he retained Mpofu in cabinet while telling the world that he was fighting corruption.

If you revisit the same committee’s 2013 report which was compiled under the leadership of the late Edward Chindori-Chininga, you will appreciate that there are many issues that Mpofu must still explain in his personal capacity. The report accused Mpofu of personally interfering with the appointment of board members of companies that partnered the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation. That was in direct contravention of section 5(2) of the ZMDC Act.

Mpofu, as the responsible minister, was supposed to only involve himself in the appointment of ZMDC board members, not the subsidiary companies. Because of his meddling, individuals involved in a conflict of interest were appointed to subsidiaries. These included Robert Mhlanga, widely seen as a proxy for powerful politicians, Cougan Matanhire, Obey Chimuka and Ashton Ndlovu. All of them were either personally involved in diamond businesses elsewhere or sat in other boards that made them compromised.

Again, Mpofu was apparently directly involved in the shady allocation of mining licences to various investors even though he had no business doing that. Granted, he appeared before the Mines committee then, but that was hugely unhelpful because he dodged making revelations on the selection of joint ventures.

The report also indicates that there was a “contestation of power” between the legislature and the executive. This resulted in the committee being barred from entering the Marange fields on several occasions even as foreign delegations were allowed. Considering that Mpofu was the face of the executive, it is evident that he was to blame for trying to bar the committee for reasons that he must publicly avail. But again, Mpofu repeatedly frustrated the then Finance minister, Tendai Biti, in his attempts to get information on the goings-on at Marange then.

It came as a shock that Mnangagwa decided to keep Mpofu in his cabinet after the November coup. And the shock became even more pronounced when the president made him Home Affairs minister. That, by the way, is the portfolio responsible for law enforcement. At the end of the day, Mnangagwa will have a huge task trying to convince the world that he is sincere in his anti-corruption campaign when he not only lets Mpofu continue throwing his bulky weight around but retains a tainted figure in his cabinet. Mpofu is simply a symbol of impunity where the corruption conversation is concerned.

Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on majonitt@gmail.com

This article originally appeared in The Standard (Zimbabwe)




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