INVESTIGATIONS into how a controversial government notice which subverted President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s authority while he was in London attending United Kingdom King Charles III’s coronation last weekend has exposed Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga’s unrelenting manoeuvres and a bid to militarise state bureaucracy to take control of the levers of power, while destabilising the incumbent.
Informed sources say at its core and more than anything else, the contentious notice was primarily intended to militarise the Ministry of Health’s procurement processes and create a blanket of secrecy to acquire goods and services without transparency and accountability.
This would have given authorities at the ministry carte blanche to secretly import anything they wanted to suit their interests.
Besides that being a potential national security threat, it would have been a breeding ground for corruption, official sources said. Chiwenga, who is comfortable surrounded by aides with a security background, has already significantly militarised the ministry.
While the popular speculation was that the notice was done to help First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa to cover up her Belarus health deals, investigations show that the notice was published through the Ministry of Health and Child Care with the approval of permanent secretary Jasper Chimedza, who is the accounting officer of the ministry.
Chimedza, a retired Air Commodore, is Chiwenga’s close ally. He is former Director-General Health Services for the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF).
Chiwenga is Vice-President and Health minister. He is former commander of the ZDF. Although Chiwenga was in charge, he would not have engineered such an elaborate scheme to help Auxillia. She is not his political ally.
Yet what is clear is that at the time when the notice was placed, Chiwenga, who is surrounded by military personnel at his ministry, was running government, thus responsible for its actions. He is said to have approved the notice before Chimedza allowed it to be published.
NatPharm, a state-owned enterprise whose assigned mandate is to procure, store and distribute medicines and medical supplies to public health institutions, falls under Chiwenga and is run by retired Air Commodore Ivan Gibson Dumba, who is acting managing director.
Formerly the Government Medical Stores, Natpharm was transformed into a state enterprise through the Government Medical Stores Act (2000). Its procurement processes are opaque and has been riddled with corruption.
The involvement of Ministry of Health officials is confirmed by Information permanent secretary Nick Mangwana, who initially defended the notice, amid heavy criticism from Zimbabweans, dramatically changed his position when the fraud was exposed.
“The idea is to disentangle purchases of emergency medical supplies or critical equipment repairs from the long drawn procurement process. So the import of the General Notice is not to avoid public accountability but to allow life-saving procurement. Supposing there is an urgent need for certain theatre sundries, without the ‘Notice’, it would mean the hospital would need to publish a tender first, and go through the long drawn process putting patient safety and life at risk. This ‘Notice’ gives room for direct procurement of such sundries without the need for bureaucratic procurement processes,” Mangwanga initially posted.
“What I have given here is the explanation that we got from the @MoHCCZim [Health ministry]. Our phones were ringing off the hook for a rationale for this instrument. The above is how they explained it.”
The notice read: It read: “It is hereby notified that the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe has, in terms of section 3(6) of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act [Chapter 22:23] declared the following to be of national interest and shall not be publicly disclosed — construction equipment and materials; biomedical and medical equipment; medicines and drugs (pharmaceuticals); vehicles including ambulances; laboratory equipment, chemicals and accessories; hospital protective equipment; and repairs and maintenance services of hospital equipment and machinery.”
A government source said Mnangagwa was rattled by the notice, hence he ordered it quick rescission.
“While investigations are still ongoing, the President was upset by the notice. It was a clear attempt to subvert his authority,” a government official told The NewsHawks.
“However, the trail of the process clearly shows what happened and gives us clues as to why. The notice was done by the Ministry of Health without followed laid down processes and getting approval from the President. To show that it was a sinister move, it was done a day after he left for London. It was executed with speed over precision. The idea was to ensure that it slips through without the President’s notice. Whoever did it, that is subversive. Under normal circumstances heads should roll. That notice undermines the President, the constitution and its principles of transparency and accountability, and public morality. Even in a Banana Republic such things don’t happen and we really hope when the investigation is complete swift and decisive action will be taken. Otherwise, that come back to haunt us and create more bigger problems in future.”
Despite always appearing together in public, including in Mudzi on Friday opening Rwenya Bridge on the Kotwa (Mashonaland East) to Nyanga Road (Manicaland), Mnangagwa’s relations with Chiwenga are badly strained due to the unresolved leadership question after they removed the late president Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
Those close to the two leaders say Chiwenga is always with Mnangagwa as a sign of checkmate. Mnangagwa’s purges of all those from the military who brought him to power has left a taste bitterness and resentment among his former allies.
As a result, their rivalry due to betrayal and purges pervades the ruling Zanu PF, government and state institutions.
Official sources said Chiwenga — when he was Acting President from Thursday to Sunday last week – allowed General Notice 635 of 2023 to sail, declaring the procurement of goods mainly in the health sector to be made secret in the “national interest”.
The notice was done the day after Mnangagwa left for Britain. Mnangagwa left for London on 4 March 2023.
The notice was placed the following day – 5 March 2023. Mnangagwa returned home on 7 March when it was already through the process. This caused public outrage and an outcry.
When Mnangagwa arrived on Sunday the notice had already been done, although it came out to the public on Tuesday. The following day — on Wednesday — Mnangagwa was shocked about the uproar over it and immediately intervened to rescind the notice.
Mnangagwa and Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda distanced themselves from the notice.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba said his boss did not know anything about the notice. Charamba revealed that the gazetted notice angered Mnangagwa.
Mnangagwa is currently reeling under Al Jazeera’s Gold Mafia investigative documentary in which criminal syndicate kingpins were recorded as saying they pay him handsomely to ensure they operate in the country smoothly.
“As its date shows, this illegal gazetting happened last Friday, a day after the President had left the country. He is very upset about it,” tweeted Charamba.
There are several stages that a Statutory Instrument (SI) or a general notice goes through before it is published in the Government Gazette, the official publication which carries laws, ordinances and other regulations.
Checks show that the opening stage for an SI is the crafting of the first draft by legal division officers of a particular line ministry.
After the draft, which happens follows wide consultations, it then goes to the ministry’s director for perusal and then to the permanent secretary who passes it on the minister.
The draft document is then sent to the office of the Attorney-General for checks on issues to do with its compliance with the constitution and the enabling Act which, in the latest instance, is the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act.
The cabinet committee on legislation is also consulted on the final draft before it is sent to the government printers for publication in the Government Gazette which comes out on Fridays.
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said in an interview with The NewsHawks that there is a long process that takes place before a statutory instrument is published, but he distanced himself from the offending notice.
He, however, said an SI does not go through the cabinet committee on legislation which he chairs.
“SIs do not pass through the CCL (cabinet committee on legislation), but are done by the line ministries. Once published, Parliament through its Parliamentary Legal Committee then checks if it does not offend the enabling legislation and the constitution.
“The procedure is it’s published and takes effect, but within 30 days PLC must sit and consider it. So it came out last Friday; they had not yet sat,” he said.
Asked whether he thought the rescinded notice violated the constitution, Ziyambi said: “That’s why Chief Secretary issued a statement. The President indicated that we are investigating how it happened. So, I cannot comment further than that. The issue is being investigated and once the investigations are completed, we will be able to issue another statement.”
In Parliament on Wednesday, Harare MP Tendai Biti said the rescinding of the statutory instrument amounted to a constitutional coup.
“Mr. Speaker, in future, someone can actually suspend the government through statements like that. It is a serious matter, Mr. Speaker. It is a constitutional coup, Mr. Speaker,” he said.
Sibanda said in his statement that the document had been published without Mnangagwa’s authorisation, and without his own signature, adding that investigations surrounding its publication were underway.
“While further investigations are underway, government wishes to advise the public that, on the instruction of His Excellency the President, the document in question has been rescinded as it has no standing at law, in policy and in terms of set government procedures. It thus should be disregarded,” Sibanda said.
Checks showed that other statutory instruments which appear in the government gazette do not bear signatures. In fact, in the latest gazette there are no signatures.
This made it easier for the Ministry of Health sneak it in through the notice.