GOVERNMENT is under fire for stripping the country’s assets and selling off key state-owned enterprises for privatisation without parliamentary approval in opaque transactions that could see the country losing billions of United States dollars.
Several state-owned entities are up for grabs, including key ones like Petrotrade, Genesis Energy and Fidelity Printers and Refiners, among several other companies the government says are underperforming.
This also comes as the government is forging ahead with the disputed and controversial deal that will see one of the country’s biggest fuel suppliers, the state-owned Petrotrade, being sold to a Kuwaiti firm, the Independent Petroleum Group (IPG), for less than US$20 million, in a deal insiders say reeks of corruption.
Harare East member of Parliament Tendai Biti quizzed Finance minister Mthuli Ncube on the opaque nature of the privatisation deals, demanding answers as to why Parliament was not consulted in all cases.
Biti, a former Finance minister, also questioned why the government wants to privatise Fidelity Printers and Refiners, adding that it was illogical for a gold-producing country to want to privatise such a key entity.
In 2021, the government structured a deal that would see 10 companies take control of Zimbabwe’s gold refinery, Fidelity Printers and Refiners, for US$49 million. Ncube announced the deal back then.
“I am concerned with the very idea of wanting to privatise Fidelity Gold Refinery,” Biti said. “It eludes my wisdom why you would want to dispose of that gold refinery given the strategic nature of gold in our country.”
He said the government was running astray by privatising key companies and demanded guarantees that it should never happen again without the knowledge and input of Parliament.
“. . . there has been a spate of privatisations. There has been a spate of disposals of key strategic assets owned by the government of Zimbabwe. Why is that process being done outside Parliament . . . ?”
“For instance ZB Bank has been privatised, First Mutual Life was divested from Nssa and another big bank was also divested from the state, gold mines have been divested from the state, Bindura Nickel (BNC) has been divested from the state. Why are privatisations occurring nocturnally or nicodemously, in the shadow of darkness outside Parliament?”
Biti poked holes into the deals, saying: “Who are the purchasers? Are we getting good value? Has there been due diligence and why is the framework designed by the government through the Privatisation Agency of Zimbabwe being ignored and diverted?”
“The point I am making is that, as a question of law, Parliament should provide approval of the acquisition and disposal that is not happening. Can the good minister give us assurances that he will come to Parliament to seek parliamentary approval for the disposal of assets?” Biti said.
“Assets are part of the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) — any public assets are part of the CRF. We [Parliament] control the CRF and that is why he is persuading us to pass the supplementary budget. We control public assets. We need the undertaking from him that he will not privatise Zimbabwean assets without the approval of Parliament.”
Harare North MP Rusty Markham said Ncube should explain the arrangements for the PPPs, particularly the recent one over Fidelity Printers and Refiners.
The MP questioned the capacity of the companies involved and whether they openly tendered for the deals. He also asked over their shareholder capacities, among other requirements.
Ncube said the privatisation of Fidelity Printers and Refiners, whose envisaged sale he previouly announced, has been suspended indefinitely.
“I want for the record to state that there is no PPP that we have entered into. What we had announced was something that we thought was a good idea, which was to partially privatise Fidelity Gold Refineries, has been suspended indefinitely.”
“We will look into it in future once we have overhauled the company sufficiently so that we get good value for money from whoever comes in to invest in the company. So at the moment, all PPPs in terms of investments have been suspended indefinitely.”