- High court ruling is academic and has been overtaken by events
- Muchenje still faces a litany of criminal charges
- High court judgment delivered after seven months
The High Court ruling to reinstate fired former NetOne CEO Lazarus Muchenje is academic and has no effect, Zim Morning Post has heard.
Law experts say the ruling that comes after seven months since the matter was set down, has been overtaken by events and has no implication to the current set up at the government-owned telecommunication company.
Insiders told Zim Morning Post that Muchenje remains terminated despite “the academic judgment passed today (Monday).”
Chronology of events
Muchenje was dragged before the company’s disciplinary hearing after a litany of allegations emanating from an internal forensic audit were levelled against him.
Muchenje challenged the disciplinary process in the High Court. On the 8th of July 2020 NetOne reinstated Muchenje and subsequently terminated his contract of employment on three months’ notice.
Muchenje filed an urgent chamber application (L Muchenje vs S. Mutangadura and Others HC 3611/2020) challenging the termination. The urgent chamber application was placed before Justice Chinamora for hearing.
Chinamora issued a preservation order which recognised the reinstatement of the employee and ordered the employer not to effect the termination of the contract of employment. The matter was heard by Justice Chinamora on the 4th of August 2020 and judgement was reserved.
Insiders said NetOne made several follow ups on the ruling through its legal practitioners. Despite this being an urgent chamber application, by December 2020 the ruling had not been handed down.
Highly placed NetOne sources said NetOne, having been seriously prejudiced by the delays in the handing down of the judgment, then abandoned the termination of the 9th of July 2020 and reinstated Muchenje on the 21st of December 2020.
“NetOne withdrew the matter and reinstated Muchenje on December 21 2020,” said the source.
The reinstatement of the 21st of December 2020 meant that the termination that had been challenged by Muchenje before Chinamora had been done away with. After this reinstatement NetOne then terminated Muchenje’s contract of employment.
The termination was granted approval by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Muchenje, again, challenged the termination in the High Court (L. Muchenje vs S. Managua and Others HC 7653/2020).
The application was placed before Justice Muremba who declined jurisdiction on the matter and held that the matter was a labour matter which had to be decided by the Labour Court and not the High Court. Justice Muremba noted in her ruling that Muchenje was seeking reinstatement through the back door.
Law experts say this, therefore, means that the ruling that has been handed down by Chinamora is purely academic, because it has been overtaken by events. “The termination that was being challenged in the urgent application that was heard by Chinamora on 4 August 2020 was set aside by NetOne leading to the reinstatement of Muchenje on the 21st of December 2020.”
NetOne suspended Muchenje from employment on 21 February 2020 and instituted disciplinary proceedings against him on the 2nd of March 2020.
This was after various audits had unearthed serious cases of abuse of office which included purchasing of household furniture for his personal use using company funds, at the time valued at approximately US$600 000.00 as well as the signing of agreements with an offshore company which led to the installation of equipment on NetOne’s network without board approval and without any security clearances.
This equipment had the potential of causing serious national security breaches. Apart from the threats to national security, the contracts that Muchenje had unlawfully entered into with the offshore company had a potential financial prejudice to NetOne of US$2.24 million.
Muchenje is also facing numerous criminal charges in which he is accused of potentially prejudicing NetOne of at least US$2.6 million and ZWL$10.4 million through unauthorised purchases, awarding himself hefty allowances which are outside his terms of employment, unilaterally awarding himself and his wife holiday stipends, including placing his personal domestic workers on the NetOne payroll, and leasing himself a deluxe company house in Harare’s leafy Borrowdale suburb for just a fraction of its market value, further prejudicing the company financially.
“According to the charge sheet, in November 2019, “Muchenje allegedly allocated himself and his wife ZWL$895,000 (US$36 000.00) as a holiday allowance although she was not eligible for it.”