Minister exonerates self on gem cash, says NIEEB nibbled at trust fund

Minister exonerates self on gem cash, says NIEEB nibbled at trust fund

HARARE, April 10 (The Source) – Manicaland provincial minister Christopher Mushowe on Thursday denied diverting funds meant for a community trust, saying he actually stopped the state’s National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board (NIEEB) from improperly claiming cash from the Marange-Zimunya community trust.

Parliament has in recent weeks thrown the spotlight on the seven diamond miners operating in the government-controlled Marange fields, amid allegations that the firms have reneged on pledges to donate $10 million each to the community trust.

Presenting oral evidence before a parliamentary portfolio committee on indigenization and empowerment on Thursday, Mushowe refuted claims, made in Parliament by an executive from Chinese diamond firm Anjin that he had directed that funds meant for the trust be deposited into his private account.

Mushowe said it was actually a trust account as requested by former empowerment minister Saviour Kasukuwere, as he followed up on the pledges the miners had made.

Mushowe also volunteered that he had intervened on behalf of the trust when Nieeb chief executive, Wilson Gwatiringa wrote to the trust demanding $250,000 but later reduced it to $100,000.

“The CEO said the meeting (to launch the trust) that took place in Marange was funded by Nieeb and wanted their money from the trust fund. I took up the matter with minister Saviour Kasukuwere who was not aware of it and he said it was not proper for Nieeb to ask for that money from the trust,” he said.

Mushowe said he also sought audience with the then chairman of Nieeb, Mike Nyambuya, who professed ignorance but promised to act on it.

“He assured me that he would tell the CEO to stop and the money was not taken. I said this money is for the benefit of the community and not government departments or individuals,” he said.

He also maintained that the Marange mining firms pledged $10 million each, dismissing their claims that they were not aware of the pledges while others claimed they only owed $1,5 million, to be paid over five years.

“All companies were represented when President Mugabe came and the sad part of it is that most of the people who came are indigenous Zimbabweans seconded by government to these companies fighting against empowering their own people in defence of foreign investors who come to scoop diamonds and go,” he said.

Mushowe accused mining companies of failing to uplift the lives of communities they were operating, adding that the arguments that they had build homes — when they were replacing the ones they had demolished — were ‘mischievous.’

“The people there are sniffing dust every day. The moral consciences of these companies must be searched. And these are the companies who have representatives who came here to this honourable house……. and saying they didn’t know they had a responsibility to pay the money. Or that they were not told that they should pay money or if they paid money it was out of gratis.”

Asked about the existence of any formal agreement where mines signed for the pledges, Mushowe said: “The ministry (of indigenisation) would be in a position to know that but I did not receive copies of the agreements or pledges,” he said.

Mushowe said the President was aware of the goings on and would take action.

“Yes the President is aware of what’s going on and I am sure through the relevant ministries he will give the necessary instructions,” he said.

Mushowe took a swipe at people who accused him of fraudulently benefiting from the trust after he was quizzed about an alleged sponsored trip to China for him and his family, funded by one of the miners.

“I was never flown to China. I often go to China. I have a son who is studying in China,” he said.

Asked about having a relative, Brian Mushowe, sitting on one of the diamond firms’ board, Mushowe said:

“I didn’t expect this honourable committee to witch-hunt,” to which the committee chairperson, Mayor Wadyajena (ZANU-PF) intervened and said: “Honourable minister can you respond to the questions please. You are now giving us advice.”

“Yes Brian Mushowe is on Jinan (board) but he was appointed by the then minister of mines, I didn’t even know. He is not my son; he is my cousin’s son. He is an accomplished person and I am sure the minister then realised his potential.”