TWO senior executives at state-owned petroleum firm Petrotrade have gone to court to challenge their placement on “mandatory leave”, warning that the illegal action could plunge the country into chaos as the entity is critical in supplying fuel to the military and police who are key in maintaining law and order.

Cougan Matanhire, who is the firm’s chief operations officer and Nomsa Chitsaka, the business development director, were forced to go on “mandatory leave” by the company’s acting chief executive officer who claimed it was a directive via text message from ministry of Energy and Power Development permanent secretary Gloria Magombo.

The duo is seeking interdictory relief suspending the operation of the directive.

Matanhire was employed by Petrotrade in November last year before he was confirmed as substantive chief operations officer in February this year while Chitsaka was confirmed as the substantive business development director at the same time.

The two are seeking a declaratur to the effect that the respondent‘s directive “is unlawful, null and void and of no force and effect.”

“Additionally, respondent is a state-owned entity with a critical role to play in the volatile energy sector. My role within the respondent’s operations is a critical one. Presently, I am not able to supervise the staff in my department or liaise with respondent’s suppliers and customers, who include, in the main, government departments and agencies, some of whom are responsible for the preservation of law and order in Zimbabwe,” Matanhire’s affidavit deposed with the High Court on 22 March 2022 read in part.

“It is not without exaggeration when I state that respondent’s operations will be plunged into inevitable chaos should this unlawful state of affairs persist. Only urgent relief from this honourable court can stall this.”

Matanhire said he, together with Chitsaka, were on 11 March 2022 summoned to a meeting with the acting chief executive officer who told them they were suspended immediately.

“We were informed by him that the permanent secretary of the ministry had advised by way of text message to suspend us immediately from employment,” Matanhire said.

“I was shocked and demanded to see text message. The acting chief executive officer refused to show me the message. He said he would, out of his benevolence place us on mandatory leave,” he added in his application.

“We were instructed to surrender immediately our company vehicles and laptops and escorted by security out of the respondent’s offices.”

He said the mandatory leave was not part of his employment contract.

“Respondent’s actions are also contrary to provisions of the Public Entities Corporate Governance Act (Chapter 10:31) and Public Entities Corporate Governance (General) Regulations as well as section 68 of the constitution which guarantee my right to administrative conduct that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair.”

He said the company’s actions were a threat to his future job prospects as they were calculated to mean he had done something wrong.

“I have indicated as much to respondent’s acting chief executive officer in the preceding days. His only concession has been to release the applicants’ motor vehicles back to their possession.”

Petrotrade is also in chaos after Energy minister Soda Zhemu suspended the Tinomudaishe Chinyoka-chaired board early this month.

Zhemu said he had instituted investigations into what they called “corporate governance issues” but it emerged he suspended the board members as they were opposed to a suspicious deal that reeks with corruption in whichPetrotrade and Genesis Energy are to be sold to Independent Petroleum Group (IPG) of Kuwait.

Ministry officials want to sell Petrotrade for less than US$20 million to IPG after an understated valuation which will prejudice the state while benefitting corrupt government facilitators.

A local transaction advisory consortium has already been paid US$115 000 before the controversial deal – which is being resisted by the suspended Petrotrade board against a backdrop of mounting pressure from the ministry – is signed.

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