Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Tongaat Hulett in bribery storm

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Parliament has launched investigations into allegations that Zimbabwe's leading sugar producer, Tongaat Hulett, has been bribing legislators with top-of-the-range vehicles in a bid to get their support against resettled farmers who took over their sugarcane fields.

The committee on Lands, Agriculture and Resettlement chaired by Justice Mayor Wadyajena toured the company plantations in Triangle and announced its probe after allegations of bribery and underhand deals were mentioned by some MPs.

MDC-T MPs Godfrey Sithole and Amos Chibaya led the accusation against the company last week when the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Lands and Resettlement was touring the plantation in Triangle. The committee was touring the plant and it's sugarcane fields to get an appreciation of the operations as well as challenges thereof.

Chibaya was the first to question Tongaat Hulett managing director Sydney Mtsambiwa on allegations that the sugar processing company was buying top-of-the-
range vehicles for Zanu-PF MPs so that they could get support to have 4 000 hectares of land which government had given to indigenous farmers.

Mtsambiwa told the committee that as far as he knew, no one had been bribed or given anything by Tongaat Hulett in return for support for land.

"To the best of my knowledge, we have never given anyone anything. As far as I know, I don't remember any day we gave any politician anything. We work with the community and whatever we do is above board," Mutsambiwa said.

His response attracted an interjection from Wadyajena who warned Mtsambiwa of censure from Parliament if they discovered that he was misleading them.

But Mtsambiwa seemed unmoved by the interjection and repeated his statement that no one was given anything.

Sithole weighed in and asked Mtsambiwa the same question now providing finer details of the alleged bribery by even providing registration numbers of the vehicles one of which was allegedly being driven by local MP, Darlington Chihwa.

But Mtsambiwa stuck to his response, saying no one had been given any vehicle by the company. He instead said the company donates to communities and not individuals.

Tongaat Hulett three years ago lost 4 000 hectares of sugarcane land to indigenous farmers, but government later on withdrew the land offer forcing the farmers to take the matter to court.

The matter is now before the Supreme Court, however, Tongaat Hullett is not part of the legal wrangle.

Mtsambiwa said they were spectators to the legal matter and any decision made by the court would be good to allow the firm to move on.

But the MPs seemed unsatisfied with his response after it emerged that Tongaat Hulett does not have any documentation for the land they were operating on after losing it during the land reform programme.

The MPs grilled Mtsambiwa on the matter and it took the intervention of Zimbabwe Sugar Association chairman Muchadeyi Masunda who tried to explain the legal challenges faced by Tongaat Hulett to get documentation for the land.

"After the enactment of the legislation on indigenisation, a fine but extremely important distinction needed to be drawn with regard to the de jure position and the de facto situation on the ground. In the case of the sugar industry, in the event that the operations of Tongaat Hulett in Zimbabwe had ground to a shuddering halt, about 25 000 formal jobs would have been lost and, with that, the livelihoods of well over 250 000 dependents would have been put into serious jeopardy in the Lowveld. In the circumstances, the option which the sugar industry chose to take was justified morally, professionally and otherwise," Masunda explained.

Wadyajena said his committee would continue to probe the allegations of bribery raised against the company.