AS Zanu-PF’s long-serving chief whip, Joram Gumbo came across as a tidy, backroom operator, quietly but efficiently pulling the strings for his party in Parliament. But his scrapbook in government since his appointment as minister three years ago has been anything but tidy.
Here, we take a look at some of the ethical issues that have positioned Gumbo, a transport minister until his redeployment to the energy portfolio last month, as the poster boy for sleaze in Cabinet:
‘Winning tenders not a crime’
While his bumbling attempts to explain the Zimbabwe Airways debacle will probably define Gumbo’s tenure in government, his admission this week that he drew allowances from the cash-rich but scandal-prone Zimbabwe National Roads Authority (Zinara), a $300 million-per year fund which also handed him lucrative supply contracts along with some government departments, suggests the airline controversy is not an exception.
“I have a company called JMCD. It is our company and the directors are myself and my wife. It is a sewing company. It is supplying the army, Zanu-PF, the Ministry of Health (and Child Care) and many other companies. It won these tenders. It has got nothing to do with me as an individual,” Gumbo told the Herald.
“I cannot go and stop a company and say you can’t tender. It is not possible and the fact that I am working and when the company supplies the army and the Ministry of Health it is okay, but when they supply Zinara because they have won a tender competitively like everybody else then it becomes a crime. I do not understand it.
“When they won their tender I was not even involved, but the company is there and there is nothing to hide about it. It is connected with Nemchem and was supplying a lot of things in Government. We are doing a lot of cleaning and it did not start now. That has always been happening.”
Although Gumbo did not explain how his company is connected to Nemchem, he appointed former Nemchem managing director Leslie John Denn, who was shot dead in May 2016, chairman of the Central Mechanical Engineering Department soon after he was appointed minister.
‘As minister, you get assistance’
Gumbo also admitted to the Herald that he had been paid thousands of dollars in allowances by Zinara during his stint at the transport ministry. In April, the minister received $1,295 from Zinara for local trips to assess the state of roads and another $4,380 for Malaysia travel expenses. This is despite the ministry overshooting its $74,000 budget allocated by Treasury by spending $460,272 on both domestic and foreign travel in the nine months to September 2018, according to official figures.
“When you go out as a minister you apply for assistance because you do not have the money for hotels and all your staff so there is nothing wrong,” he said.
“Zinara is for roads. From the ministry you are only given 650 (litres) coupons, but because you are going out you do not go alone. You go with a team to visit the roads. So if you are going to visit all the roads in the Midlands you get the funding from them. Zinara is for roads so they will assist you to go out and do work that we are supposed to do. Every time you saw me in Nkayi, Chipinge, in Mashonaland Central or anywhere else, accommodation, food and all the other expenses were being paid for by Zinara.”
Gumbo also had $4,380 travel expenses to Malaysia, on Zim Airways business, paid for by Zinara.
“The point was that Zim Airways did not have money. You could not then get money from Air Zimbabwe because they were strained and they could not pay because it was now like two separate accounts or entities — Air Zimbabwe on its own, Zim Airways on its own.
“But then how do you go to Malaysia and do Government business, we needed money to go there. What we then did at the ministry was then to say let’s look at a parastatal that can fund the trip so that’s is how we did it. Zinara was the only place where we could get money, but still it was Government business.”
First son-in-law lands at Air Zimbabwe
When Simba Chikore, son-in-law to former President Robert Mugabe, landed a top job at national airline Air Zimbabwe, not even the most credulous could not smell a whiff of nepotism. Gumbo dutifully defended the appointment.
“Chikore is the new chief operating officer of Air Zimbabwe. We advertised the job and the response was good. I have been given the results of the hiring process by the board chairman and there were seven candidates and he came tops all round.
“It was done by experts and his experience as a pilot for Air Zimbabwe and in Qatar, as well as his training in the US prevailed. He was just too good because the guy who came second was way below him in terms of points. I’m aware that some people will raise eyebrows, but from the results I think he deserves the job and as minister, I accept the appointment,” Gumbo said, adding:
“It does not mean that the president’s relatives, his children or anyone associated with him cannot be employed in Zimbabwe. I’m a relative of the president but does that mean I’m not supposed to be minister?”
“I hope people will not spread lies of favouritism because he truly deserves the job. He was interviewed by both outsiders and the Air Zimbabwe team,” Gumbo said.
Chikore was to last only a year at Air Zimbabwe, during which time he eclipsed hapless chief executive Ripton Muzenda.
Chikore then moved on to drive the murky Zimbabwe Airways project.
Tied in Zim Airways knots
When an airline blogger posted images of a Boeing 777 emblazoned ‘Zimbabwe Airways’ late June 2017, speculation ran wild, but the consensus quickly emerged that Air Zimbabwe was finally shedding its troubled past and rebranding.
Not so, Gumbo said.
The planes had nothing to do with government. Or the Mugabes. The aircraft had been purchased by unnamed private, non-resident Zimbabwean investors.
“This has nothing to do with government; we have no good books to attract partnerships. All we are doing is to assist them,” Gumbo told the Zimbabwe Independent in November 2017.
“This has nothing to do with President Mugabe or government. I told them (unnamed investors) we had initiated talks with several airlines so they just adopted my idea and we took them to Malaysia, which had shown interest. They clinched the deal and as minister I am only facilitating, just like I am doing on the roads.”
By May 2018, Gumbo was singing a different tune.
Citing changed circumstances following Mugabe’s ouster and his replacement by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who vowed to re-engage the international community and dispossessed farmers, Gumbo told Parliament that Zim Airways was indeed a government entity and that the state had paid $41 million towards the $70 million purchase price for the second hand Malaysian aircraft.
Gumbo defended his subterfuge, saying he had come up with an elaborate ruse to wrong-foot creditors who had threatened to impound the planes. The creditors included the Swiss-German von Pezold family, which won a $65 million international arbitration award for the seizure of its prime farm and forestry land in 2005.
Whatever justification Gumbo has for the well calculated deceit, it is hard to imagine a government official, anywhere in the world, emerging with any credibility from the Zim Airways debacle.
‘They stumbled upon her house’
As if that was not enough, more Zim Airways controversy was to follow Gumbo. It emerged that the fledgling company had set up office at a property owned by the minister’s niece, Mavis Gumbo. Mavis Gumbo is a former employee of the Premier Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS) where she, along with other executives, drew huge salaries and allowances which bled the health funder dry.
After initially denying that Zim Airways was renting a property from her, Mavis Gumbo conceded, but argued that a realtor had set up the deal in a commercial coincidence. The realtor she cited, Letbill Realty, ceased operations in 2017, but its director denied its involvement in the Zim Airways deal. Letbill had dealt with Mavis Gumbo many years back in an abortive deal to sell one of her Harare properties.
The minister was, however, less circumspect.
“Mavis is my niece. She has her house and she wanted to lease it out through estate agents. The Zim Airways guys stumbled on the house without her or my knowledge and they liked it. It was a purely business deal,” Gumbo told the weekly Standard newspaper.
In an interview with ZiFM, Gumbo said he saw nothing wrong with the Zim Airways office arrangement:
“I don’t think anybody who is a Gumbo or related to a Gumbo or related to somebody in any position will be barred to do any business because there is a relationship. It’s not by me, it doesn’t benefit me, it’s her house, it’s being rented out, it’s taken from estate agents. What’s wrong with that?”
In 2012, with Nicholas Goche as Transport Minister, Univern was awarded an $8 million contract to supply 40 graders to Zinara. The company’s suppliers decided to include a front-dozing plate on the earthmovers, which is used as a snow-plow.
Earlier this year, Gumbo said there was nothing to be done anymore about the rotten deal. The government just needed to forget and smile.
“It is true that some of the graders are not for road-making at all. They are for snow grading. But we have them, we have to use them. They were bought by us, that is corruption between us, that is what we did, that is how we failed. Those who bought them erred. But let us forget about it. Let us move forward,” he said.