ZIMBABWE’S deputy Industry and Commerce minister Roy Bhila (pictured) was fired last week over corrupt issues involving cement import licences — money-spinning permits — and the secret charging of “facilitation fees” in the process by ministry officials in cahoots with business traders, official sources have told The NewsHawks.
To exacerbate the situation, Bhila, who is MP for Chiredzi North, Masvingo, was secretly recorded saying President Emmerson Mnangagwa is on his way out as his co-deputy Constantino Chiwenga gradually manoeuvres to position himself as his successor in 2018 or before.
Chiwenga’s rise, expected by some, will prevent an amendment of the constitution and third term plot by Mnangagwa and his political allies.
Insiders say Mnangagwa, officially 81 but in reality 85, has third term ambitions and is surreptitiously manoeuvring to stay on beyond 2028.
That is why Zanu PF, which failed to get absolute parliamentary control during the recent August general elections, is desperate to secure a two-thirds majority through the backdoor to change the constitution to facilitate that.
The ruling party is currently capitalising on opposition activist Sengezo Tshabangu’s fraudulent recalls to cause by-elections to push for a two-thirds majority.
Official sources say Bhila was dismissed for those two reasons.
“Bhila was fired for abusing cement import permits and attendant corruption activities associated with that. The issuance of those permits, which are money-spinning instruments, was accompanied by payment of facilitation fees for the personal benefit of the ministry’s officials and those that they work in cahoots with,” an official source said.
“Besides corruption, politics also contributed to Bhila’s dismissal. He was recorded telling the grassroots in his constituency in Chiredzi that Mnangagwa is on his way out and Chiwenga is coming in. He was specifically recorded as saying ‘mudhara haasina basa as power is shifting to Chiwenga and people are now aligning themselves with him.
Chiwenga is the future’. This was viewed as an attempt to incite subversion and a revolt against Mnangagwa’s leadership. This is a manifestation of factionalism, infighting and succession battles. The unresolved leadership question in Zanu PF and government after the coup has not gone away.”
Mnangagwa recently warned those plotting against him that he was always ahead of them because he set up the country’s security architecture and structures that are still loyal to him, hence keeping him in power.
He has also said no one will stage a coup against him.
The President’s authorised biography Emmerson Mnangagwa: A Life of Sacrifice by his informal adviser Eddie Cross says in January 2019 Chiwenga tried to impose a state of emergency while his boss was away in Russia and other countries in Eastern Europe amid fears of yet another coup.
This was during anti-government protests over fuel price increases and other deep economic problems.
The book says Zimbabwe Defence Forces commander General Phillip Valerio Sibanda refused to help in overthrowing Mnangagwa who had come in through a coup in November.
However, the cement import permits scandal is what immediately got Bhila removed.
The political issue exacerbated the situation.
Zimbabweans can now freely import. This came as a response to a doubling of prices caused by surging demand and depressed local production.
Cement prices were rising on the informal market due to a combination of factors: plant breakdowns and scheduled maintenance at the country’s major cement producers, besides the expiry of import licences.
All this happened at a time of record high demand.
“The nation is advised that following reports of artificial cement shortage in the market and the spiralling prices cabinet has approved the importation of cement by individuals and companies with free funds,” cabinet said recently.
Until December, each individual and company can import a maximum of five tonnes of cement.
Cement producers for years lobbied the government to limit imports, saying they could not compete with cheaper imports, given the high cost of production at home.
In 2021, the government gazetted Statutory Instrument 89 of 2021, which restricted foreign cement by issuing import licences.
Many of these licences have since expired and the government had been reluctant to renew them, causing a shortage.
This caused arbitrage and corruption, which ministry officials in cahoots with business are cashing in on.
Contacted for comment and upon hearing it was a journalist from The NewsHawks, Bhila said: “Yes its me Bhila. What is your problem?”
When the questions were put to him over the reports of corrupt issues involving cement import licences — money-spinning permits — and the secret charging of “facilitation fees” in the process by ministry officials in cahoots with business traders, Bhila breathed in deeply before terminating the phone call after about eight seconds of holding on to the line without speaking.
Afterwards, he stopped answering further calls.