By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
25 June 2014
Ex-ZBC boss Happison Muchechetere may be on his way to being let off, after the State dropped the serious fraud charges initially levelled against him.
When Muchechetere was first arrested and brought to court in March, he was charged with defrauding the state broadcaster of at least $800,000.
He was also accused of flouting tender procedures regarding the purchase of an Outside Broadcast van from China, the price of which Muchechetere allegedly inflated for his own benefit.
But at a remand hearing on Tuesday the State dropped the fraud charge, meaning that Muchechetere now faces the less serious charge of violating the Procurement Act.
The State’s case in relation to that charge is that Muchechetere misrepresented that the van was bought for more than $1 million and when it cost $100,000.
Muchechetere is accused of inflating the price and fabricating the receipts in connivance with officials from a Chinese firm with whom he shared the balance.
The ZBC CEO is also said to have personally travelled to China to seal the van deal, without involving other executive committee members.
He denies the charges and his lawyers are expected to argue that since ZBC is not a procuring entity their client did not commit any offence and seek his discharge.
The fraud charge carries a sentence of around 35 years, legal sources say, while violating tender rules is more an administrative issue and therefore less serious.
Muchechetere is one of several heads of parastatals recently subjected to intense media scrutiny over the hefty salaries and perks they were enjoying at the expense of service delivery and accountability.
The nation learned how the likes of Premier Medical Aid Society boss Cuthbert Dube and Muchechetere were respectively earning $500,000 and $44,000 monthly while presiding over debt-ridden and underperforming institutions.
The exposés stirred considerable excitement within the populace who had hoped that the ruling party would use the information to weed out corruption among public officials.
Some observers however saw these as just ZANU PF’s leadership squabbles being played out in the media, and doubted that there would be any censure for villains.
As the drama unfolded, Prosecutor-General Johanes Tomana spoke to disabuse Zimbabweans of any misplaced expectations that the State would deal decisively with those implicated.
Tomana said the CEOs who were grossly overpaid for poor performance had not broken any law and his office couldn’t prosecute them for “earning too much”.
Godwin Phiri, director of youth group intsha.com, told SW Radio Africa that the ZANU PF system is synonymous with corruption, hence the reluctance to act.
“Corruption is so deeply embedded in the ZANU PF government that to deal with the malpractice is also to deal with the very soul and foundations of the party.
“The intricate relationship that exists between ZANU PF, Cabinet, and corruption at State enterprises makes it impossible for the ruling party to unravel the malpractices without dismantling itself.
“That is why VP Mujuru accused ZANU PF officials who were driving the exposés of being the enemies of the party bent on destroying it from within,” Phiri said.
The youth leader said by questioning the motives and casting the anti-corruption drive as a factional issue, Mujuru had in a way shaped the government’s response.
“From that point onwards some of us knew that nothing will come out of the revelations or the court cases. If you notice the same people who were being vocal about stemming corruption are the same people that Mugabe is now referring to as ‘weevils’ bent on destroying the party from within.
“As long as ZANU PF is in power Zimbabweans shouldn’t get excited when party officials say things that resonate with the ordinary people.
“ZANU PF officials never mean to do the right thing by Zimbabweans, their every move is meant to deceive and ultimately disappoint,” Phiri told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday.