UNDERFIRE Finance ministry permanent secretary George Guvamatanga has struck a defiant tone after fierce criticism over his 50th birthday bash in Harare where he invited top performers from South Africa.
The top civil servant slipped into the vortex of a big storm on Friday after video clips emerged of him showing off his fortune and pledging to multiply by five the money that had been agreed for Louis Mhlanga, the South African based superstar to perform at the decorated bash.
Zimbabweans, frustrated by high level corruption and plunder by politicians and their cronies, linked the decorated flamboyance by Guvamatanga to his powerful position as finance director of the country.
In a no holds barred interview with The Standard, Guvamatanga, a former managing director of Barclays Bank Zimbabwe before it was taken over by AMB Capital in 2017, reminded his adversaries that he spent 30 years with the international lender, earning millions.
Millions more were paid out as packages when he left the bank, now rebranded to Capital Bank, in 2017 after an attempt to take it over flopped.
Barclay Plc, which was divesting out of several African markets, settled for the Malawi headquartered AMB Capital, instead of a consortium of the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange listed bank’s management, which was led by Guvamatanga.
He was then invited to join government following the coup that brought down strongman, Robert Mugabe in November 2017.
Guvamatanga’s huge fortune is in addition to a thriving cattle herd being reared over swathes of prime land at his farm, which he said generates not less than US$1,2 million a year.
Apparently, planning for the expensive birthday feast had begun last year, when the top civil servant was caught up in the Covid-19 rage.
He spent many days under artificial oxygen after contracting the disease during the first few months, as the pandemic tore through regions, threatening lives, destroying economies and leaving a trail of destruction.
“First of all, let me put things into context,” Guvamatanga said by phone from Victoria Falls yesterday.
“The issue of saying the artistes were paid more is not correct.
“The clip was quoted out of context.
“I was saying to Louis Mhlanga, one of Zimbabwe’s most decorated musicians that if I had the money, I would have paid five times more than we agreed.
“It was a tribute to Louis Mhlanga.
“You know that I cannot take foreign currency from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and spend it like this.
“I worked for a big international bank for 30 years and I was paid in offshore accounts.
“There are millions in that account.
“Others avoid paying taxes when they are paid through offshore accounts, but Barclays was strict.
“And if you ask Zimra (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) they will tell you that I was one of the biggest taxpayers during my stint at Barclays Bank.
“I paid between US$2 million and US$3 million in taxes, the records are there.
“Now, if I paid US$3 million, ndakasara nemarii? (How much remained in my account?).
“My package at Barclays, including my bonus was US$3 million.
“It is all above board, I have a known offshore account, and have interests across most sectors of the economy, from insurance to agriculture to distribution and others.
“I will need to take you to my farm, I have 1 200 cattle.
“My business interest and wealth are known and everything has been declared.
“I cannot pretend to be poor.
“Most of my cattle fetch not less than US$2 500 (each), and I sell 500 cattle per annum.
“So why can’t I celebrate life?”
He added: “I planned for this party after my near-death experience with Covid-19.
“So, what I am doing is celebrating the life.
“I can’t stop my wife and children from organising the party because they said when you reach 50 years; we will need to celebrate because of what happened.
“I cannot pretend to be poor to make people happy.
“I am not poor.
“I am so surprised that people are judging me with the three years that I have been a civil servant, instead of the 30 years that I worked for Barclays.
“I am doing national service in government.
“I have a trust that is paying the bills for a cancer patient, an amount more than what was paid to the artists.
“And I have a maid who I have stayed with for many years, and I bought her a house,” Guvamatanga added.
He said before settling for Mhlanga, he had first hired superstar, Mukudzei (Jah Prayzah) Mukombe as the main act at the decorated event.
Reports said at the weekend, adversaries to the former G40 political clique forced Guvamatanga to draft the superstar, who last months courted controversy after performing at a Cape Town birthday bash organized by former strongman Robert Mugabe’s son in law, Adam Molai.
But Guvamatanga said a few hitches led him to drop Jah.
“Yes, I invited Jah Prayzah, he was supposed to be the main act.
“But there were complications on the management side. I had already paid him a deposit.”
South Africa’s pop stars Mafikizolo and Makhadzi played along Mhlanga at the bash.