Mnangagwa blocks reinstatement of fired NetOne CEO

Lazarus Muchenje
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CHIEF Secretary to the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda has blocked NetOne from reinstating its suspended chief executive officer Lazarus Muchenje saying such a move is against the spirit of the “new dispensation”.

This comes as the struggling mobile telecommunications parastatal on Thursday suspended two top managers — chief operating officer Brian Mutandiro, pictured, and financial director Sibusiso Ndlovu — over untested allegations of financial abuse gleaned from the latest audit.

The NetOne board reportedly met on January 30 and resolved to suspend the two executives for a fortnight pending a probe.

Mutandiro and Ndlovu were part of nine executives axed in July last year by Muchenje, but were reinstated by the board in August 2018 after noting that they were summarily suspended by Muchenje without following due procedure.

Muchenje, who was suspended last year, was expected to resume his duties this month after NetOne’s newly-appointed board — chaired by James Mutizwa — had recommended that charges against him be dropped.

Muchenje, is a highly-regarded former Vodacom executive who was appointed NetOne CEO on April 1, 2018, taking over from Mutandiro who had been acting since June 2016 after the then CEO Reward Kangai was fired.

“The board recommends to the shareholder, in terms of Section 16 of the Public Entities Corporate Governance Act as read with Section 11 of the Public Entities Corporate Governance (general regulations) 2018, that having relooked at the decisions that were made regarding the CEO, the board has considered it prudent and in the interest of the company that the pending legal proceedings against the CEO be withdrawn,” read part of the board resolutions.

“The board further recommends to the Shareholder, that an engagement process be commenced with the CEO and that a detailed deed of settlement be negotiated and entered into the CEO which will detail the resolution taken by the board.

“The board shall engage the shareholder regarding the contracts of employment of the nine staff members who were subject of a directive issued by the ministry on the 5th October, 2018 and was not implemented by the board.”

In blocking the decision, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s chief aide said the board did not give credible reasons why Muchenje — who was initially scheduled to appear before a disciplinary committee — should go back to work.

The former CEO was suspended a few days after he had sued the then minister of ICT and Cyber Security Supa Mandiwanzira, NetOne board members, nine NetOne executives and the Office of the President and Cabinet. He accused the defendants of disregarding corporate governance rules through interference in the day-to-day running of the government-owned telecommunications company.

In a letter seen by the Daily News addressed to the ICT and Cyber Security minister Kazembe Kazembe, Sibanda decreed that the decision taken by the board be reversed.

“The Corporate Governance Unit of the Office of the President and Cabinet is in receipt of the board resolutions of the ordinary meeting 1 of 2019 of the NetOne board of directors. Of interests is Resolution number 5 that ‘the proceedings against the CEO be withdrawn’ would be inconsistent with natural justice and basic corporate governance requirements.

“This is specifically so as the new board does not provide any basis for its resolutions to withdraw hearing proceedings against the suspended CEO.

“Transparency dictates under the new dispensation require that governance systems and processes be followed through to their conclusion at all Public Entities including at NetOne, notwithstanding changes of personalities. This is critical for the protection of the public assets and funds,” said Sibanda.

Prior to his appointment as NetOne CEO, Muchenje was CEO of Intarget Group since 2014.

Before joining Intarget, he was CEO of FirstRand Bank Celpay International BV between 2005 and 2013.

Other positions he has held include executive head of sales for Vodacom South Africa and founding finance director of the company in the Democratic Republic of Congo.