WORKERS at the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) have raised concern over alleged profligacy by the parastatal’s board members.
They claim that the 10-member EMA board siphoned thousands of dollars in allowances after conducting 30 meetings inside three months.
According to the EMA Act (20:27), the board should sit once each quarter. Section 5 (2) of the Act stipulates that board meetings should be held after a seven-day notice has been issued by the chairman, which means that the board can ideally meet for a maximum of four times a month.
“The chairman of the board himself may at any time and shall, at the request in writing, of not fewer than two members, convene a special meeting of the board, which meeting shall be convened at a date not sooner than seven days nor later than 30 days after receipt of such request,” reads the Act in part.
The board is chaired by former diplomat Zenzo Nsimbi.
Other board members, who were appointed in February last year by Environment, Water and Climate Minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, are Sophia Nyamudeza (vice chair), Felix Moyo, Andrew Mlalazi, Nickel Mushangwe, Howard Mazaiwana, Barbara Rwodzi, Nelson Chanza, Irvine Kunene and Dorothy Chasi.
EMA is a statutory body responsible for ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources and protection of the environment; the prevention of pollution and environmental degradation and the preparation of environmental plans for the management and protection of the environment.
It was established under the Environmental Management Act Chapter 20:27, enacted in 2002.
Some of the issues it handles include environmental impact assessments and cases relating to the pollution of rivers and the environment in general by companies and local authorities.
EMA board spokesman, Moyo, denied suggestions that the board has met 30 times already this year, saying it was actually only meeting today for the first board meeting of 2017.
He said the workers could be confusing some committee meetings for board meetings.
He, however, acknowledged that there have been a lot of meetings by different board members serving in various committees, stating that the meetings were unavoidable if the board was to function properly
“The board sits once a quarter with committee meetings culminating in a full board meeting. This is in accordance with dictates of the EMA Act (20:27) and good corporate governance. We have actually scheduled the board meetings and there is no deviation. Such sittings are meant to give policy and guiding strategic directions as well as assess the performance of the agency on set strategic targets and key performance indicators,” he said on Tuesday.
He added: “The EMA Act allows us to meet as the situation demands to immediately address issues. We are called upon by situations to meet, unlike other boards.
“Ours is a hands-on board. If there is something to do with an environmental hazard, the responsible committee immediately meets and the same happens when there is a human resources issue. We cannot let the environment to be destroyed because of an allegation that we are meeting too many times. When things go out of hand, it is the same society which will say they are not doing anything. It’s our duty to protect people.
“Furthermore, in terms of the law, the board has powers to conduct hearings for individuals, corporates and local authorities who flout environmental provisions. The board hearings are court trials as the EMA board has powers of the Magistrates Court (EMA Act 20:27). One trial may take days to finalise. Where on earth have you seen a Magistrates Court being told to meet on limited occasions? Courts meet as and when there is a case.”
Moyo said the board is currently overwhelmed by pressing environment cases.
He said nothing will stop the board from meeting as frequently as is necessary to do so.
“There is just so much work to do and if we give attention to some big brother watching from somewhere to complain that we are meeting too many times for allowances, we would be doing the country an injustice. Our principals (government) have actually been telling us that we needed to work even harder than this. We are not doing enough and we are too few. We need teams to go to diverse places but we can’t. What we have is a small team of men and women who are giving all they can for the people of Zimbabwe and all that they require is an appreciation. We are doing just enough to allow us to work elsewhere. Remember we all have our full time jobs,” he said, while disputing suggestions that each board member was being paid US$300 sitting allowances.
“I am yet to see anyone getting US$300; we get US$160 for each sitting. If you go around boards, you will realise it’s the lowest. Yet people see us doing our job and say there they are looking for allowances,” he said.
Disgruntled workers are, however, convinced that the board could be primarily motivated by the allowances to convene so many meetings over a short space of time.
The general feeling is that money is being needlessly spent on incessant board meetings at the expense of carrying out key operational functions.
EMA has previously been labelled a toothless bulldog by critics who feel it is not doing enough to curb environmental hazards in the country.
But the organisation, which is heavily subsidised by the State and also enjoys international support, has repeatedly argued that it was poorly funded.
“At this rate, by the time the year ends, they would have blown about US$400 000 at a time when there are so many environmental issues crying out for our attention,” said one source.
“Some of the meetings do not even last two or three hours and they still get those allowances because the law says they cannot be reduced. This looks like a loophole which is being exploited,” the source added.