Where did the cash go?

—Miss Tourism sponsorship money vanishes
—Models caught ‘lying’ about tuition

Prince Mushawevato —
CONFUSION and massive bickering are dogging the Barbara Mzembi-led Miss Tourism Zimbabwe (MTZ) following allegations of misappropriation of funds.

Reports are that Miss Tourism organisers are yet to pay tuition fees for most of the contestants despite having already received enough annual funding for 15 models from the anchor sponsor, BigTime Strategic Group.

The models received their cash prizes on January 24 at a handover ceremony in Harare. However, the tuition money they signed for was handed over to MTZ organisers by the sponsor for disbursement later.

That disbursement now hangs in the balance. Information at hand indicates that Miss Tourism has started shifting goal posts with regards to the tuition payment.

The developments have led some of the aggrieved models to break protocol by directly contacting the anchor sponsor, enquiring about their outstanding payments and seeking clarification.

This publication is in possession of SMSs and emails sent to the sponsor.

“I’m messaging because I have an enquiry about our school fees. I believe the money for fees was given to the MTZ team the night of the prize giving and we had given our yearly amounts with invoices which we signed for but now things have been changed and only half of some of our amounts are being paid for.

“My case, for example, my fees for the year cost US$1 358. Which included the study kit US$608 and the yearly tuition US$750. We are being told only tuition is being paid but I had signed for both the kit and the tuition on prize giving day as I cannot study without the kit,” wrote one model to the sponsor.

But the models are also to blame. It turns out some of the models either lied that they were in college/university, or gave bloated figures of what the institutions of higher learning were actually charging. That is not the end of the story.

Reports are that Miss Tourism is yet to pay some service providers who helped make last year’s edition a success. Again, this is despite having already received cash at least three times to settle these debts.

In one instance, Big Time Strategic Group says it gave MTZ US$48 562 to pay   service providers, but the firms in question say they have not been paid. In other instances, suppliers say MTZ now wants to pay them less than what they had signed for. Now BigTime Strategic Group director Justice Maphosa is furious.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Mail Leisure, Maphosa said: “I have a reputation to protect and don’t need it to be tarnished. If there is anyone who has not yet been paid, and I mean everyone who took part in MTZ, then I need to know why? Call the patron and check if I did not pay all the invoices they gave me.

“I came with more than enough money for service providers, including fees for all the children, and left them with change to use in other projects. Why then do I keep on getting calls and texts from some of these guys over non-payment issues? Honestly, I’m not happy and please tell the patron I’m fuming.”

The sponsor is said to have initially poured in close to R26 million (US$1 937 366 using an exchange rate of 1:13) to cover all invoices pertaining to organising and prizes for the pageant. After the final was held, it is said, Maphosa availed R1 million in two equal tranches.

“I sponsor the annual Gwanda Gospel Festival … and have never failed to pay anyone. But surprisingly in this case I have had suppliers and models saying they were told they would get paid when the sponsor releases money. What happened to the millions of rands I gave them at the rate of US$1 to 14 rands instead of that day’s rate, which was 1:13?

“If there is need for me to come and explain myself through a Press conference, I will willingly do so. These developments are so disturbing and I again repeat, I’m not happy at all,” charged Maphosa.

Insiders say despite having a substantive board, Miss Tourism operates as a one-man – or one-woman, in this case – band.

The patron, Barbara – wife of Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi, allegedly calls all the shots without consulting the 12-member board that consists of top tourism players like Francis Ngwenya, Violet Rukande, Sabastian Benning and Blessing Munyenyiwa.

It is alleged Barbara has twice fired members of her team. The first group of casualties that was fired for challenging her decisions is reported to have been shown the exit five days before the Miss Tourism grand finale.

“We exist on paper but basically know nothing about the day-to-day running of Miss Tourism. For instance, we do not even know how much was poured in by the sponsors let alone know how the money was used. The details we have with regards to disbursement of funds before and after the pageant are not any different from what you know. Actually it appears you know more than I do,” said one the disgruntled MTZ trustees.

Designers, choreographers, artistes, decorators, security personnel, and venue suppliers are among those still owed money.

A source at the hotel that accommodated models said the contestants were almost kicked out after MTZ failed to pay for their stay. The models went to the hotel after Miss Tourism failed to secure a mansion in the leafy suburb of Borrowdale, Harare as initially planned.

Singer Selmor Mtukudzi has taken Miss Tourism to court demanding US$3 250 in performance fees after she was contracted on August 22, 2016 to perform at the pageant finals at the Harare International Conference Centre – although she did not perform. It is alleged the trust reneged on a signed contract just before the show started, advising the musician she no longer had a slot on the schedule. They did the same to several other artistes.

Efforts to get Barbara Mzembi’s side of the story were fruitless as she was said to be in Saudi Arabia with her husband as he campaigns to become United Nations World Tourism Organisation Secretary-General.

However, MTZ spokesperson Alson Darikayi acknowledged “disturbing issues”.

“What these models are doing is wrong and embarrassing. They are approaching the sponsor and making outrageous demands. The sponsor fulfilled his part and has no obligations this side. Honestly, is it proper for a model that is getting tuition fees to then further nag the sponsor for things like accommodation or transport fees, which was not part of the agreement?” queried Darikayi.

“For the record, information that came from the models revealed that some of the models gave exaggerated figures of their fees. We have since asked them to bring invoices from their respective colleges/universities so that we give them the tuition fees but some are failing to do so hence we are holding on to the money.”

Darikayi defended the MTZ patron and the rest of the team.

“I don’t think the patron took even a single cent or misappropriated funds. I do acknowledge that there are service providers owed, but that is not because the sponsor did not give us money or there was misuse of funds, but just that we made mistakes of bringing on board more service providers after having already sent our initial proposed budget to the sponsor and that is an error we have noted and will not be repeating in future.”

He went on: “Despite the challenges, we have made an effort to settle the debts. Perhaps you should also know that we went on to pay contracted artistes, some who even did not perform. For instance Selmor was paid a deposit though she did not perform.”

Could this spell the end to the promising BigTime Strategic Group-MTZ relationship? Asked this question, Maphosa said he wanted to see how things developed henceforth before making a decision.

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