Former National Social Security Authority (NSSA) chairman Robin Vela has been implicated in irregular housing deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars unearthed by a forensic audit that was instituted to probe various questionable transactions at the state pension fund last year.
The audit covers the period when the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, which NSSA falls under was under ministers; Prisca Mupfumira, Patrick Zhuwao and Petronella Kagonye.
The report, according to sources-says Vela-who was relieved of his duties in March last year also interfered with internal recruitment processes. The reason for his firing significantly related to him being a foreign resident with local interests.
But Vela denied the claim, blaming some (named) politicians for being behind his dismissal, while indications are some executives at the pension institutions and some politicians were involved in some shenanigans exposed.
The audit followed concerns over questionable transactions and investments by NSSA as well as issues related to corporate governance deficiencies. NSSA, with assets worth nearly $1,1 billion (to be revalued) has been heavily criticised for wasting retirement savings through investing in areas that have not yielded positive returns.
Sources said most of the issues in the audit report regarding Vela’s conduct, were “incriminating”.
“Most of the tenders relate to housing projects where competitive bidding process was not conducted prior to awarding of tenders,” one source, who requested not to be name because the matter is private, told Business Weekly this week.
“The report also pointed out irregular recruitment at NSSA and all these revolve around him. The board is still studying the report and will seek legal advice on way forward.”
NSSA, through its subsidiary National Building Society, had set target of building 14 000 houses in the short term. One of the huge contracts, worth $300 million was awarded to Housing Cooperation Zimbabwe, for 8 000 houses in Caledonia Valley.
N-frays Construction Company was awarded a contract to build low-cost houses in Amalinda high-density suburb. In Dzivarasekwa, NSSA invested $17 million towards the construction of 600 houses, ranging from one to four rooms. Other low cost housing projects included the development of Derbyshire in Harare (1 010 units), Emganwini, Bulawayo (800 units), and National University of Science and Technology area student accommodation (4 800 units). Sekai Nzenza, the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare said she was yet to be briefed.
“The report is still with NSSA board and I am hoping to get a briefing in the next few days.”
NSSA chairman Cuthbert Chidoori, said his board was studying the report and would inform the public at an “appropriate time.”
“There are many issues directly affecting NSSA in that report but unfortunately, we are still busy with induction.
“We will do our proper analysis and the public will be informed according,” said Chidoori.
No comment could be obtained from Vela by the time of going to press yesterday.
Minister Nzenza has previously indicated there could be a massive restructuring at NSSA but this would depend on recommendations from the board. She said there was need for wholesale review of the authority’s corporate governance and management structures to align them with the Public Entities Corporate Governance Act.
“While there are brilliant and outstanding skills within NSSA, there are some critical issues relating to good governance,” Nzenza said. “It is my objective to ensure that NSSA becomes an example of best practice and good governance by demonstrating professionalism, transparency and accountability to meet its commitment to pensioners.”
NSSA has attracted criticisms for wasting retirement savings through non-profitable investments.
Some of the investments include the construction of a US$40 million hotel in Beitbridge and a series of bailouts of local banks some of which have since been closed down.
It has previously been reported how NSSA spent US$100 million on investments that included buying shareholdings in broke firms as well as properties at inflated prices.
Zimbabwean pensioners are among the worst paid retirees in the region, earning as little as 32 RTGS dollars per month, which is equivalent to US$13 at the prevailing official exchange rate. The government has since indicated that it is considering increasing the pay-outs to cushion pensioners from rising cost of living.