Why Bhila was fired
6 December 2023
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Zimbabwe’s deputy minister of Industry and Commerce, Roy Bhila, was recently dismissed from his position over allegations of corruption involving cement import licenses.

According to official sources, ministry officials colluded with business traders to charge “facilitation fees” during the licensing process, which proved to be a lucrative scheme. The corrupt activities surrounding these money-spinning permits led to Bhila’s downfall, The NewsHawks’ Brenna Matendere reported.

In addition to the corruption allegations, Bhila found himself embroiled in a political controversy. Secret recordings of him surfaced, where he expressed the belief that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s co-deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, was gradually positioning himself as Mnangagwa’s successor.

Sources said:

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.

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, who is officially 81 but believed to be 85, is reported to have ambitions for a third term and is allegedly manoeuvring to stay in power beyond 2028. However, Chiwenga’s rise is seen by some as a hindrance to Mnangagwa’s plans, as it could prevent any amendment to the constitution that would allow him to extend his term.

The corruption scandal involving cement import licenses only added fuel to the fire. Cement prices had been soaring on the informal market due to a combination of factors, including plant breakdowns and maintenance at major cement producers, as well as the expiration of import licenses.

In response to the artificial cement shortage and skyrocketing prices, the cabinet approved the importation of cement by individuals and companies with free funds. This move allowed Zimbabweans to freely import up to five tonnes of cement until December.

Cement producers had long argued for import restrictions to protect their industry from cheaper imports, but the government’s decision to limit imports led to corruption and arbitrage.

Bhila had served for only two months when he was fired.