THE Zimbabwe Independent newspaper is suing the government for refusing to release information regarding the procurement of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) buses.
According to the newspaper editor, Faith Zaba, the paper had been pursuing the story since last year with no luck.
Their interests grew after establishing that the company called Landela Investments, linked to the fuel tycoon, also President emmerson Mnangagwa was involved in the deal, having sold the buses at an inflated price to the government.
However, efforts to get more information regarding the issue after ministers whose ministries are involved started playing the blame game while witholding information requested.
Now, Zimind Publishers (Private) Limited together with Transparency International Zimbabwe (TI-Z) Trust has taken the matter up to the High Court demanding the release of the information they requested.
Cited as respondents are the Local Government, Finance ministers, July Moyo and Mthuli Ncube, Zupco and Transport minister to release information regarding how the deal was carried out.
Zaba deposed an affidavit on behalf of the two applicants.
“The applicants in this matter jointly seek an order from this honourable Court in terms of section 6 (1) (b) of the Administrative Justice Act (Chapter 28:10) (The Act) specifically for an order compelling Local government and finance ministers to supply the applicants with written reasons for their refusal to provide information relating to the purchase of buses for Zupco cited as third respondent,”she said in her founding affidavit.
According to court papers, the Herald on March 11 202 published an article titled 65 more Zupco buses delivered from China to bolster Zupco’s fleet as part of the government’s efforts to provide affordable transport.
During the same month, The Zimbabwe Independent also reported about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the acquisition of buses for Zimbabwe.
The pertinent story linked the murky transaction to aLandela Investments (Pvt) Ltd.(Landela).
The Zimbabwe Independent stories reported that the government had initially signed a hire purchase agreement with Landela but had subsequently decided to pay the company $863, 2 for 162 buses.
Landela thereafter sold each bus to the government for US$212 962 yet the company had purchased the buses from China for US$58 900.
Zaba said it was this curious arrangement which prompted applicants to wonder about the nature of Landela.
“Accordingly applicants sought to peruse the Registrar of companies records relating to that company were continuously reported by the companies Registry, to be missing,”she said in her affidavit.
She also said their lawyers then made follow-ups in a bid to get information to no avail.
In May 2020 her paper had asked all the three cited ministers to shed more light on the details surrounding the purchase of buses and the involvement of Landela .
She said all the three ministers distanced their respective ministries from the transaction.
Local government minister said the procurement of buses is handled by the Central Mechanical Equipment Department (CMED) issue which parastatal falls under the Transport ministry.
The Transport minister directed all questions to the Finance minister while Ncube washed his hands of any responsibility and stated that his ministry only approves payment but is not involved in the purchase of buses.
Ncube allegedly told the newspaper that the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ) was responsible.
“The respondents evasive attitude only raised greater concerns around the business and financial arrangements relating to the transaction and on August 26 2020, the applicants legal practitioners wrote to Zupco and the transport minister requesting information relating to the purchase of buses.
The transport minister in response to the request for information was that Zupco falls under the Local government ministry.
Following this on the 3rd of September 2020 a separate request for information letter was addressed to Ncube and the Local government minister on the 9th of September 2020.
Still no information was supplied.
Zaba said this effectively means that the respondents have refused to disclose pertinent information regarding the purchase of buses yet the information is accessible to them.
She said the law allows her to make such an application compelling the respondents to give her information within a reasonable time.
The matter is yet to be heard.