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Minister under fire over army company operations

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DEFENCE minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri (pictured) was on Wednesday cornered by independent Norton MP Temba Mliswa over the opaque investments and business dealings of army-owned company Rusununguko Nkululeko Holdings (Pvt) Ltd.

BRENNA MATENDERE

The military company is the brainchild of the late Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo and has vast investments in various sectors of the economy, including in the media after getting a television licence to operate its NRTV station.

Mliswa took on Muchinguri-Kashiri over the business entity which symbolises the opaque commercialisation of the military whose financial owners have gone unscritinised.

Mliswa said the shadowy firm is not benefiting junior soldiers, but a small clique of the top brass.

His challenge of the Defence minister led to his ejection from Parliament by deputy speaker Nomalanga Mzilikazi Khumalo.

To bring the matter into context, Mliswa said although he had no problem with the army investing in the economy through Rusununguko Nkululeko, the company must be audited and held to account for its activities to avoid corruption and benefiting individuals.

“My question is, honourable minister (Muchinguri-Kashiri), are you aware that the minister of Defence has not submitted accounts since 2020? There is a company called Rusununguko which was a brainchild of the late SB Moyo which would tackle the economic problems of the military. Rusununguko has been given resources in this country so that the ministry of Defence is not seen to be suffering.”

“Rusununguko is yet to tell us that the resources given to them by government have achieved how much. We do not know whether those resources are for certain individuals using the name Rusununguko in the army, or Rusununguko is truly an army concern. We have not seen any financial reports so that when we debate on the budget of the ministry of Defence, the income that Rusununguko makes comes in, the minister of Finance then takes it on and does not give the ministry of Defence all the money.”

“We would like to know from an accountability point of view how much money is Rusununguko making and where is the money going to because in every area, they are plundering resources in the name of Rusununguko, an army company. The Chinese are partnering with Rusununguko and we would like to know the partnership with the Chinese and how much they are benefiting the army because the soldiers are complaining that there is no money, yet there are resources which the army has been given to pay the soldiers,” asked Mliswa.

Deputy speaker Khumalo tried to shield Muchinguri by saying the question needed figures and could not be answered on the day, but Mliswa would have none of it.

“Rusununguko is a vehicle which you Zanu PF politburo members are using, honourable senetor Mutsvangwa, to get things. That is the truth. You are abusing it. It is a vehicle which generals and you senior members are using to steal the resources of the country, yet the war veterans and soldiers are suffering.”

“We want accountability. Where is the money Rusununguko is generating going to or else give the resources of the country to the people? Give them to the ordinary soldiers so that they benefit,” he fumed.

“Honourable Mliswa, please get out of the House,” responded the deputy speaker, who later claimed that the MP had been ejected because he was making noise. Mliswa was escorted out of the chamber by the sergeant-at-arms, but on his way out he bellowed:

“Rusununguko icompany yevakuru irikubira masoja mari (Rusununguko is a company of bosses that is stealing money from soldiers).”

Lack of financial probity in Rusununguko Nkululekp Holdings can be traced to June last year when the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) took the entity to court demanding US$142 530 for using its chalets since 2018.

ZimParks said it had leased out its chalets to Rusununguko Nkululeko under a geographic lease agreement.

Several journals written by academics in the past show that the commercialisation of the military is a high security risk which could fund instability or even coups.

In a journal titled “The Curse of Military Commercialism in State Enterprises and Parastatals in Zimbabwe,” academic Gorden Moyo, a former minister of state in the late prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office, highlights the matter.

He unpacks the implications of the increasing incursion of both retired and serving military officers into state enterprises and parastatals (SEPs) as shareholders, directors, chief executive officers, management, and, more curiously, as labour.

He highlights that the reason why the army is commercialised is a power consolidation strategy and to crush the political opposition.

Moyo argues that the military is commercialised in Zimbabwe to increase the personal wealth of top commanders as a reward for their loyalty in ensuring regime survival in the face of mounting opposition challenge.

“Against this backdrop, the military flagrantly interferes with political processes of the polity, including elections in favour of the ruling party – Zanu PF,” writes Moyo.

However, more research papers say the risk of having an independent army which is well-resourced from murky businesses is that they can use the same resources to topple the government of the day.

The academics argue that a commercialised army is dangerous for Zimbabwe because it poses a threat to civilian authority. The military must salute civilian political authority, not the other way round.

The late army general SB Moyo who founded Rusununguko Nkululeko company was the face of the 2017 military coup that toppled long-time ruler Robert Mugabe.

Muchinguri-Kashiri denied that funds were being siphoned from Rusununguko Nkululeko and said the government is taking care of the soldiers through a “military salary concept which had been abandoned during the First Republic, only to be resuscitated during the Second Republic.”

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