The acquisition of ZUPCO buses, a Government subsidy for public transport, has been plunged into serious question amid opacity regarding the ownership and operations of the facility.
Review & Mail this week heard claims that a huge chunk of buses acquired from South Africa and China were owned by President Mnangagwa’s business and political allies Kuda Tagwirei and Tino Machakaire, rumors that have been circulating for some time now.
It further emerged that the running of the subsidy operation involving private operators is done through an opaque taskforce headed by members of the security forces, and comprising ministries of Transport and Local Government and Finance.
Traditionally, Local Government ministry controlled Zupco.
On Wednesday, there was a showdown between bus operators and Government over non-payment to the former – we can exclusively reveal – with signs the scheme could be rocked by trouble soon.
Government owed operators $165 million, and a source close to the development revealed late Friday that the impasse could be resolved after Government pledged to pay the money through Zupco.
Yet, it is the ownership of buses that has raised uncomfortable questions about what appears to be corruption in the scheme.
According to our sources, President Mnangagwa could be running bus companies through his proxies.
“Those buses belong to Tagwirei and Machakaire,” an impeccable industry source and bus owner claimed in an interview.
“Machakaire is the one playing the front in the sourcing of the buses. Zupco has less than 60 buses in the whole fleet,” said the sources. Machakaire, a Member of Parliament, Deputy Sports Minister and a known Mnangagwa protégé, is already an owner of a fleet of buses.
“Then there is a bus company called Stallion Cruise – those belong to the Big Man – but the company is fronted by a guy called Pote from Zvishavane who is a businenessman and hotelier in the town.
“There are some 65 buses that came under Stallion Cruise and did not pay duty. Do you know them? Check them out! They are nice luxury buses that are now taking over major routes in the country up to Victoria Falls. They are the Big Man’s…it’s now a mafia operation,” our source claimed.
However, Machakaire, also known as TinMac, refuted the allegations in a phone interview Friday morning.
“If Government has acquired buses it has acquired them for itself, where do I come in?” Machakaire shot back.
Pressed further, he said: “All those are lies. Tagwirei is not involved. I am not involved…I already am in the transport business but I cannot buy for Government and Kuda (Tagwirei) cannot buy buses for Government. It buys for itself! People are trying to make some connections but this is not related at all,” he insisted.
Efforts to get comments from Government spokesperson Nick Mangwana and Local Government Minister July Moyo were fruitless.
Mangwana said he needed to study the issue, while Moyo said he was in Gwanda.
There are mixed fears by players in the industry regarding the introduction on coaches by Government.
One school fears that traditional players in the industry could be pushed out through the creation of a new monopoly linked to the powerful oligarchs.
The other, however, considers Government to be living in a bubble, which will soon burst amid mismanagement and corruption.
According to those with knowledge with the goings-on in the industry, the imminent collapse of the subsidy scheme could also affect private players contracted under the franchise of Zupco.
“We are giving Zupco just six months,” declared an insider.
“The entity is not making any profits and is living off subsidies from Government. Let’s say each bus makes three trips per day. It rakes in ZWL210 but Government pays $3500 per day,” he said.
He noted that the Zupco subsidy was meant to deflect political pressure amid economic hardship, but the scheme was bleeding Government.
“Then the people they employed at Zupco no one has knowledge of the transport industry. There are no proper structures and the employment – from the recruitment of conductors and drivers.
There are no mechanics or a functional workshops, either.
“Right now we have witnessed 11 accidents involving the new buses and they were written off. A new bus costs at least US$120 000 in China, can you imagine! So there is nothing that is happening there. Instead, there is theft and plunder.
“The effects cannot be seen now because there is the importation of new buses every two or so months, but when the fleet becomes due for maintenance you will see how it will have been run down,” our source said.
Review & Mail understands that this week that there was a showdown between bus operators and Government over delayed payments amounting to millions of dollars.
Sources revealed that operators under Zupco franchise had no contracts with Government and that running the programme was opaque and run on the basis of fear – and sense of “national service” in some instances. Still, other operators have seen an opportunity to get free diesel from Government, amid a biting fuel crisis in the country.
A source said: “First of all, we did not sign any formal contracts, and this is a danger. If Zupco reneges on paying us, and we go to the Courts, we will not have any case because we just had a meeting with (army) generals and they said, give us buses we will give you contracts, but up to now, there are no contracts…it was verbal…”
The source explained that a simple logging system was put in place to account for the services, yet authorities continued to postpone issuance of contracts.
The source said there could be a nasty end if Zupco decided not to pay operators, leaving operators stranded.
However, contacted for comment, one of the key players in the industry, Gladmore Musanhi, played down conflict between Zupco and operators.
“All we did was to conscientise the authorities that the payments were overdue. We were conscientising the funders…and they made a commitment.
“We went to Local Government and subsequently moved to Treasury and they acknowledged the omission and things were put in place forthwith,” he said, playing down a crisis rationalizing that bus operators were used to dealing with cash and would be discomfited by any delays.
A text message circulated among bus owners on Friday indicated that politician and bus owner Esau Mupfumi had pressured Government to honour payments which would start to be disbursed this Monday. – Source: Review & Mail