BULAWAYO-BORN Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda is the chairman of nine private sector boards and director in three others.
Masunda is the chairman of Old Mutual, a British-owned and controlled insurance firm which is the biggest resident in Harare. He is also the chairman of the Commercial Arbitration Centre housed at CABS Centre, a building owned by Old Mutual.
The mayor also chairs the John Sisk &Son board, a construction company that undertakes most of Old Mutual projects. He also chairs boards of directors of Siemens, Lafarge, Atlas Copco, Harare Innercity Partnership, Coates Bros and is a director for Meikles, Zimplats, Zimbabwe Alloys, HIB Holdings and Bindura Nickel Corporation. He also sits on the High Court and Supreme Court Rules Committee.
With all these appointments, one is persuaded to think that Masunda is the last born in this country.
What is most worrying is his continued presence in leadership in both private and public sectors concurrently. Such practice, in the main, yields a high fertile ground for corruption, nepotism and all other vices.
London mayor Boris Johnson, Washington DC mayor Vincent Gray and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa all resigned from private sector engagements when they took over their jobs. The reason is clear: to avoid overlaps and possible conflict of interest.
Here in Zimbabwe, Masunda is on absolute free reign. He continues to be chairman of Old Mutual and being Mayor of Harare. What happens when Old Mutual complains to the city of Harare over water rates? Will the City of Harare official apply their mind independently fully knowing that the boss has interests?
At the moment, Masunda is investigating businessman Phillip Chiyangwa’s acquisition of land owned by the City of Harare. Without trying to exonerate Chiyangwa on the matter, speculation is rife that the same land Chiyangwa took was also being eyed by Old Mutual, which is chaired by Masunda. Further, the appointed panel for the Tribunal is believed to be associated with the Commercial Arbitration Centre. The independence of the appointed judges becomes questionable.
It is this duplicity of roles, which compromise Masunda every time he makes a decision.
What is more painful to note is that if an Old Mutual tenant is in dispute with his/her landlord, the lease agreement (section 41) excludes the rent board to preside on such matters. The dispute has to go to compulsory arbitration at the Commercial Arbitration Centre, which Masunda is also chairs.
By virtue of being the chairman, Masunda has tremendous influence in appointing arbitrators. Surely, we do not need to learn rocket science to realise that the impartiality of the arbitrators is heavily compromised. By allowing Masunda to be chairman while also running Harare, Old Mutual is also proving that it is bankrupt in corporate governance.
Masunda is also the chairman of construction company, John Sisk & Son. Not even the worst fool would accept that the projects the company gets from Old Mutual are not a result of Masunda’s undue influence.
Does John Sisk & Son get cement from Lafarge at the same price with other construction companies given that the two companies have the same chairman?
Masunda is also a director of Meikles Limited where Old Mutual has a significant shareholding but this time represents the Moxon Meikles Family Trust which has more than 52% controlling interest. What happens if Old Mutual and this Trust clash? During the Nigel Chanakira debacle, Old Mutual saw things differently from the Moxon clan.
Masunda also sits on the boards of Zimplats, Anglo American plc, Zimbabwe Alloys and Bindura Nickel Corporation. These mining houses have in a way contesting interests and do not want the other to be privy to its own operations. How does Masunda handle this? It’s also obvious that Atlas Copco get the lion share of orders in these companies.
There is no place in the civilised world where you can find a public official deeply involved with private companies as much as Masunda. No society would tolerate an individual to have both private and public appointment at the same time.
The MDC is silent on the matter and is failing to realise that its appointee is a huge liability. The MDC can no longer speak against such practices in future should they be repeated by other political parties’ appointees. Where the hell is Transparency International? Why is Dr John Makumbe quiet? Is it because Masunda is one of their own?
The Minister of Local Government must confront Masunda to choose to be either in private or the public sector. Equally, all these companies he is part of their boards must, for once, have conscience and demand Masunda to resign either as mayor or as board member.
Old Mutual, a conglomerate listed in London and South Africa, must be upfront on this matter and declare if it allows politicians to chair their boards. We need to know so that we can give Old Mutual political treatment.
Masunda must also realise that the misconduct of some or all his private companies he represents compromise his mayorship. For example, Old Mutual fraudulently absolved itself from pension and policy payouts and this disadvantaged many pensioners who are now failing to pay for their council rates. The council, which he chairs, is now attaching the property of the same pensioners which Old Mutual pauperised.
This double dealing by Masunda must come to an end or it will end the little remnants of corporate governance in Zimbabwe.
As if the foregoing was not bad enough to stomach, Masunda is also a member of the High Court and Supreme Court Rules Committee where he sets the court rules. You couldn’t make it up!