Zimbabwe railway unions demand NRZ audit, Grindrod deal cancellation

Zimbabwe railway unions demand NRZ audit, Grindrod deal cancellation

By Chipo Musoko, HARARE, June 22 (The Source) – Workers unions at struggling state-owned National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) on Monday called for a forensic audit at the parastatal, citing massive corruption and asked government to review public private partnership agreements with a South African firm which they say are not benefiting the company.

Presenting oral evidence before a parliamentary portfolio committee on transport and infrastructure developments, three unions representing the workers said they felt the parastatal was being short-changed.

“It would actually assist to have a forensic audit because the information we have as employees might not be enough because some (of the information) is also hidden. Everything is not well as we speak and at the end of the day you might see NRZ collapsing,” said the president of the Railway Artisans Union, Shadreck Mutakura.

He said a report on the parastatal by the auditor general — which was instigated by the unions — had not been made public.

“The late general manager (Mike Karakadzai) simply said the report was very negative against management,” he said.

President of the Zimbabwe Amalgamated Railway Workers Union, Kamurai Moyo said there was need to reduce the number of top managers, who are over 10.

In 1999 the company had one general manager and three assistant general managers presiding over 12,000 employees while moving 18 million tonnes of goods annually. Currently, it has one (acting) general manager, five directors and several managers who superintendent 6,000 employees.

“We are only able to move three million tonnes (of cargo annually). There is something that is not right because the number of employees is reducing but the number of managers is increasing. This is an anomaly we are observing as unions,” said Moyo.

The parastastal has been run by Lewis Mukwada in acting capacity since the death of Karakadzai in a car crash in August 2013, and Moyo said the absence of a substantive general manager was affecting operations.

Workers have gone for 13 months without getting paid and are owed $68 million.

“NRZ has only paid three times this year, which was for last year’s June, July salaries,” he said.

The union leaders also questioned the public private partnership entered with foreign companies such as Bulawayo-Beitbridge Railway (BBR) and Strauss which they said were skewed in favour of the partners and urged government not to renew them when they expire.

South African logistics giant, Grindrod Limited in 2013 bought an 85 percent stake in BBR through its subsidiary, New Limpopo Projects Investments (NLPI) and entered into an agreement with government and the NRZ to service and market the 470 kilometre rail link between Bulawayo and Victoria Falls to provide a North-South corridor.

As part of the deal, NRZ can access funding for refurbishment of locomotives and recapitalization, renewed every five years and is set to expire in 2021.

“We actually suspect a lot of things are happening with the agreements. We have not for a long time derived any benefit coming directly to NRZ,” Mutakura said.

President of the Railway Association of Enginemen, Honest Mudzete questioned the viability of the agreement between government, NRZ and NLPI which he said had ring fenced the cash cow of NRZ resulting in the company losing business.

Through the joint venture, NLPI was now moving goods from South Africa through Zimbabwe into DRC and Zambia and traffic from Hwange to Zambia and DRC.

NLPI was also moving wheat from South Africa to Zambia as well as fuel from Feruka through BBR as well as to Botswana by Strauss.

“The agreement ring fenced areas where NRZ was making profit and that is our main concern. The agreement is skewed in favour of the partners,” he said.

Chairman of the parliamentary committee Dexter Nduna said he would request NRZ to present the agreements with Strauss and BBR before Parliament.

“We are going to require that they bring to Parliament those agreements and we are going to scrutinize them,” he said.

NRZ is saddled with a $144 million debt and government is negotiating with the Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) for a loan of up to $700 million to fund its rehabilitation.