The appointment of State owned Allied Timbers Zimbabwe chief executive Dr Daniel Sithole has been thrown under the spotlight amid revelations he was thrust to the helm of Zimbabwe’s largest timber processor despite performing dismally in the job interviews.
Dr Sithole replaced former chief executive Dr Joseph Kanyakanye, who left the group in February 2015 following a fall out with the Allied Timbers board, as substantive CEO.
It is understood a senior Government official (name withheld) constantly clashed with former board–chaired by Harare lawyer Itai Ndudzo–which often raised competence related issues over Dr Sithole, whom they said had the least score after the interviews. The term of the previous board ended about three weeks ago and new one is yet to be appointed.
Several board members who spoke to Business Weekly said former board members alleged Dr Sithole came last out of the five candidates in the first interview, but the minister “directed” he be appointed.
However, Envinronment, Water and Climate Change Minister Muchinguri flatly dismissed the claims as sour grapes from ex-board members whom she claimed wanted to have “their friends or cronies” appointed to the helm of ATZ. She said some had served in firms that worked against ATZ.
“Why are these former board members only talking now? The names of people who were interviewed for the job were sent to higher authorities to decide. The process goes through Government and this (decision) was a security issue.
“They (the Government) also looked at what problems the company was facing, but the former board members had their friends whom they wanted appointed, yet if you look at where they had worked before, you see that they had fought Allied Timbers.
According to former board members, the Government official allegedly went ahead and recommended that Dr Sithole be appointed despite his alleged poor score out of five candidates. It is further claimed he also had the least score out of the three final candidates.
“There was a directive that he be included in the final three and he failed again, he was imposed. He failed performance assessment (equivalent of a probation), but he was defended.
“We came up with a turnaround strategy that he dismally failed to implement. It was argued that the previous management left the company broke and there was no way Dr Sithole would to turn the company around within three years,” said a board member.
“The general feeling among the board members was that the CEO did not have the capacity to execute plans. We felt that he was not competent and this was communicated to the minister,” another board member said.
A forensic audit has already been completed, which highlights the state of affairs at the company and the challenges that set in during Dr Kanyekanye’s period at the helm of the timber producing firm. Prior to the termination of his contract, Dr Kanyekanye had been on suspension after the board raised several charges of misconduct against him. The suspension was meant to facilitate investigations into his conduct, bordering on allegations of corruption, failure to observe procedures and insubordination.
But Dr Sithole said he went through the proper channels and until he was eventually appointed CEO.
“I just responded to the job advert, I came all the way from the US where I was with my family,” he said.
“I was called for an interview; interviewed by the full board and went through the Government screening process and got my letter of appointment and now i am building this organisation.
“We have put together a programme to recapitalize this organization because it had been run down.
“We had good relations with the board, which culminated in the work which is now before us, but never heard about those issues. We appreciated diversity of opinion and experience and the culmination of our work was expression of interest (call placed in the newspapers).”
Dr Sithole said the forensic audit done by KPMG Chartered Accountants was now before the auditor general and highlighted issues that happened during the former CEO’s era.
Part of the report highlights issues include failure to replenish harvested timber plantations for a period of about 15 years, which he said could see Zimbabwe running out of timber in 7 to 9 years if not addressed. He also said key machinery was not revamped or replaced. The organization requires about $30 million to address these issues.
Dr Sithole said it was perplexing how he could be accused of failing to turnaround an organization he helped transform from the former Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe to a State enterprise, ATZ. Sources say things have gotten worse since Dr Sithole took over.