HARARE, March 21 (The Source) – The board of Zimbabwe’s second largest mobile operator, NetOne, on Monday said it is implementing strategies aimed at transforming the state-owned telco from being perennially dependent on shareholder injections into a ‘major contributor’ to government coffers.
The board has ordered a forensic audit of the company’s systems to plug loopholes that could have seen the company being prejudiced of millions of dollars in shady dealings by management.
Part of the transformation, board chairman Alex Marufu said, includes the three-month suspension of chief executive Reward Kangai and possible sanctioning of a few other individuals in the near future.
Kangai was sent on forced leave following revelations that the state owned telco lost millions through irregular procurement deals.
Marufu told journalists the ‘transformation’ exercise had been resisted by the firm’s management, stressing the board had full support of its shareholder — government — through the Ministry of information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services.
“Through the efforts of the board, the business is starting to look healthy, profits are starting to look better, revenue is going up and subscriber numbers are going up,” he said.
With NetOne having been the first mobile telco to be registered over two decades ago, it should have grown to become a “significant” player in the sector like other owned telcos, Marufu said.
According to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, NetOne’s active subscriber base jumped 8.8 percent in the fourth quarter last year to 4,134 million while Econet was at 6,7 million.
The forensic audit being spearheaded by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Marufu said, is expected to take at least two months.
Among the issues to be thoroughly looked at, Marufu said, include internal control systems around procurement procedures, integrity of the payment systems, debt collection, airtime distribution and payment of salaries and allowances.
“This is not a personal witch hunt,” Marufu said. “This is a legitimate action by the board to ensure public funds are used properly.”
Marufu said NetOne debtors’ book amounted to $46 million of which about $11 million was owed by Firstel, a company linked to the firm’s management.
It had also been alleged there were several bank accounts which were being run by management without the knowledge of the finance department, he said.
“We are not going to cover up any criminal activity that someone might have undertaken,” Net One boar chair said, adding some of the loopholes had gone one for a long time as the company’s finance department ‘was weak.’
As part of the restructuring, a new finance team headed by Sibusisiwe Ndlovu had been appointed, which led to the discoveries of procurement deals that were not procedural.
He said some deal which had been signed with a number of local and international suppliers would also be scrutinised as the board was ‘uncomfortable’ with some of them.
In the meantime, Marufu said the firm had drawn down about 75 percent of its $218 million Chinese loan which has been invested in network expansion.
He assured stakeholders the facility had not been abused.