In the past fortnight, Asa Resources in general and Freda Rebecca in particular have been in turmoil. After revelations of alleged externalisation and smuggling of gold bullion, the company’s board on Wednesday announced the ouster of group CEO Mr Yat Hoi Ning, and group finance director Mr Yim Chui Kwan.
Asa suggests that more than US$4 million is currently missing in Freda Rebecca’s, but sources say it could be more. Many questions that remained unanswered.
Last week, The Sunday Mail Business Reporter Africa Moyo spoke to Asa resources group company secretary and senior legal advisor Mr Ian Barry Dearing for their side of the story.
Q: There are reports of externalisation of huge sums of money from Freda Rebecca to China by the company’s senior executives — some of who have since been sacked — through a well-knit strategy involving the purchase of overpriced mining consumables from China. The officials are also reportedly looting funds through obscene “management fees”. What is your take on that?
A: The position in relation to externalisation of money; it is true that some commodities have been purchased from companies in China and money has been externalised for that purpose. I am not prepared to agree that these have been expensive commodities and I am not prepared to agree that they have been overpriced, (that’s) number one. Number two; management fees are paid by Freda to Asa Plc Resource Group. The structure of the management fees was established by Kalaa Mpinga, many years ago. The rate of those fees was agreed between him and the mine and the rate of those fees is approved for external remittance. This is unchanged for years before the Chinese had anything to do with it. So that suggestion is entirely wrong.
Q: But if you are saying that the management fees arrangement was there since time immemorial, does it therefore suggest that the resources were looted for quite some time?
A: No! That is not the case. The management that is provided by the Plc to Freda over the years has been very straight. The structure was put in place many years ago. What is of concern to the mine managers and now in fact to the board of directors of Asa is that some of the services which have recently been provided are perhaps not the best. So we are reviewing all these matters very carefully. The suggestion your article made that this is something that was devised to make money out of the company is not the case. Let me put it this way, the recent quality of service has fallen below the expectations both of Freda Rebecca and the independent directors of Asa Resource Group Plc.
Q: What has been causing this decline in quality of service?
A: A number of people who are thought to be unfit for the posts they occupy were imposed on local management.
Q: In this case probably imposed by Mr Yat Hoi Ning?
Q: And apart from Mr Yat himself and Mr Yim Kwan, who else could be in the firing line at Freda Rebecca?
A: Well, Yat Hoi Ning and Yim Kwan were directors of the group, and they have been terminated as directors of the group. They have been removed from the office of chief executive and finance director, respectively. They no longer have anything to do with operational matters in any of the Asa group companies. The position in relation to other employees who may not be ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe is under review in accordance with Freda’s own employment laws. While these were suspended about 10 days ago, the status of other employees is yet to be considered.
Q: But we have noted a fairly high number of foreign employees at Freda holding top positions. Does this suggest that Zimbabwe does not have the skills that these guys possess?
A: I do not know much about the Zimbabwean employment situation, but I would be surprised if there were no Zimbabweans capable of doing the job that the person who was suspended, was doing. I would be very surprised. I have met a large number of the accounts team at Freda Rebecca and I have the highest regard for them and for the work they have done. I have no question about the competence of the Zimbabwean staff.
Q: But Mr Dearing, given the challenges obtaining at the mine, some of which you have confirmed, do you foresee any possibility of this company operating profitably going forward or its now on the slippery slope to decline?
A: Freda Rebecca is a good mine; it has got a brilliant staff and I use the word “brilliant” having met a lot of them. They have been impeded in what they wanted to do — and what they should be doing — by improper interference from outside. That improper interference has now been removed and it was removed by the independent directors of Asa who are disgusted by what I reported to them and there is no doubt at all in our minds that Freda Rebecca would get back to it should have been before the end of this financial year.
Q: We understand that some mills are down at the moment at Freda Rebecca and ore is being shipped to China for processing. How far true is that ?
A: That’s absolutely incorrect and completely rubbish. That is the most untrue statement you could make. Mill 1 has been out of action for about four months. We have got I think four mills running in the Toi plant and one of the two are still running. They are in production at the processing mines and it will take probably three months for the spare parts to be shipped in for Mill 1. Toi Muganyi has got that solved, he got the price . . . That is sorted. The grand works are in progress and this mine will be having six mills running and churning out a very significant tonnage to a very significant profit day in and day out.
Q: What is happening at Shangani Mine?
A: Shangani, I know nothing about it. You will have to forgive me for being ignorant but I have only been to Zimbabwe once before. I spent quite some time at Freda Rebecca and the majority of my time has been spent on dealing with matters that are more within my experience as a lawyer. I have not had chance to see Shangani, I have not had time to see Hunters Road. But I will be here . . . and Johannesburg in the next 10 days and the directors of Asa are going to be coming here (this week) for a meeting with the boards of (Bindura Nickel Corporation) and Freda Rebecca because we now have a company that is effectively going to be operated by well trusted, well respected Zimbabwean miners. Toi Muganyi (the new chief executive) and Batty (Batsirai) Manhando, who have run Freda Rebecca and Trojan for years, they are going to keep control of these two operating mines. They are not going to take any instructions from anybody; they got responsibility from their respective boards and from the Asa board to do what we know these mines can do. We are becoming a simple, straightforward African mining company with emphasis from Africa and we have got a lot of plans to help the community in Bindura and the workers of Bindura who have given an awful lot to Asa.
They have been let down in the last 13 months, they have been badly treated and the independent directors, as I said, are very disappointed, they are disgusted and they took immediate steps over the (last) weekend to set matters to the best they could. The independent directors reacted quickly and decisively. I met the BNC directors this morning (last Thursday) and I met the Freda directors yesterday (last Wednesday); they are fully supportive of having Toi fully back in charge and we have a succession plan in place.
These are Zimbabwean mines and what we need to realise that we are dealing with national assets of Zimbabwe. We are not dealing with gold and nickel ore, we are dealing with a highly skilled, very proud, very competent workforce. Don’t forget that the greatest asset that Asa has is the workforce in Bindura.
The directors of Asa recognise that and they are very sorry to those employees that have not been treated as well as we would like to have been. We are not proud of what happened. I was tasked with getting to the bottom of this and what was happening is that we were given some wrong information, and some right information, and by investigating it properly we are getting to the bottom of it.
My job is not done, we have broken the back of it and I think that the workers committee and the works council at Freda are now largely behind the directors and management. I think that they now know that they are talking to people who will do what they say and who will give them the respect they deserve.
Q: Would you have figures, either preliminary or final, on what the company could have been prejudiced by the ousted executives?
A: The figure has come down today (last Thurdsay) by probably a million pounds and is far less than US$10 million. I can’t tell you the exact figure but its a lot less than US$10 million.
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