ECONOMIST Gift Mugano has resigned as Ziscosteel interim chairperson after Industry minister Sekai Nzenza reportedly censored him for making remarks that were deemed in ‘conflict’ with his role as a board member of a State enterprise.
In a letter to Nzenza dated June 29, Mugano said he was reluctant to sacrifice his freedom to comment candidly or give constructive criticism on policy issues in exchange for a position in a State entity.
“As a follow-up to our conversation over my comments on public media on government policies which are viewed by some sections of government as in direct conflict with my role as a board member of a State enterprise, I took a reflection of the concerns to resign from the Ziscosteel board,” Mugano wrote.
“The decision to resign is built on a firm view that I believe that my contribution to policy discourse is of primary importance which cannot be forfeited in favour of maintaining a micro role as interim chairman and board member of Ziscosteel.”
Mugano, who has been standing firm against the government’s decision to sell Ziscosteel coke ovens to ZimCoke, said an attempt to gag him violated the government’s position on freedom of expression.
“In any way, the Second Republic, in line with the provision of the Constitution of Zimbabwe on freedom of expression, which is outlined in the Transitional Stabilisation Programme paragraph 1776, has opened the space for citizens which includes commentators such as economists to freely express themselves,” he said.
Mugano in an interview confirmed an attempt to muzzle him but refused to disclose the comments that irked ministers in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.
“It is not the Minister of Industry and Commerce who had issues with me, but her colleagues in Cabinet,” Mugano said.
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“She (Nzenza) was just a messenger. In short, they wanted me not to give what we call constructive criticism where there are policy deficits.”
Insiders yesterday revealed that Mugano fell out of favour with some ministers over his firm position against the government’s decision to sell Ziscosteel coke ovens to ZimCoke, a company run by Mnangagwa’s top allies.
An investigative story by The Standard in collaboration with the Information Development Trust published in March revealed an acrimonious relationship between Mnangagwa’s allies angling to take over the coke ovens in a debt swap deal with Ziscosteel.
The investigation established that Mnangagwa had full knowledge of the deal and gave it a nod as some of his allies were the intended beneficiaries. The probe also revealed that the government facilitated a shady US$225 million deal meant to strip the comatose Ziscosteel of its critical assets.
Mugano described the deal, where Zimcoke only paid $1 transfer fees and undertook to settle Ziscosteel’s US$225 million debt with a German bank as an asset-stripping venture, and in bad spirit with the integrated nature of the steelworks. He also vowed that the ZimCoke deal would never materialise as long as he was still the chairman of the giant steelmaker.
Ziscosteel is set to lose many assets, including wagons, land and houses under the deal carried out without asset evaluation.
Well-placed sources said Mugano’s decision not to support the ZimCoke deal placed him out of favour with ministers from the Midlands province where the steelworks is based and where most of the ministers have benefited from the Ziscosteel assets.
Mugano had crossed paths with ZimCoke board member Eddie Cross for attempting to frustrate the deal after he applied for its review which his predecessor Nyasha Makuvise seems to have been arm-twisted into approving. Newsday