AT least 500 workers at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation will be retrenched in a restructuring exercise meant to turnaround the public broadcaster that is saddled with a US$44,3 million debt which is to be assumed by Government.The corporation is technically insolvent as it is realising only US$275 000 per month in revenue against a budget of US$2,3 million of which US$1,6 million should go to workers’ salaries.
ZBC workers have gone for over six months without salaries. Additionally, the company is in arrears of US$8,3 million owed to the workers for outstanding salaries, while it also has to meet some statutory obligations.
Secretary for Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Mr George Charamba, yesterday told the Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Broadcasting Services that the corporation was overstaffed.
“Each time I look at ZBC, I am struck by the fact that out of a thousand plus workers at the ZBC, the workers who are really minding the core business of ZBC, which is to broadcast, hardly go beyond 500. If you work out the equation, it tells you that for every reporter there are 50 or so support workers around him — meanwhile the reporter goes without services, which means ZBC has taken flesh in non-core areas.
“That means we have to restructure in a thoroughgoing way and when we restructure, it means we are incurring retrenchment costs. It is then another spending item we have pleaded with Government to take,” he said.
Mr Charamba said they were also engaging Government to assume ZBC’s debt as one of the measures to restore its viability.
“The real viable option that we are pursuing is that of debt assumption to get Government to agree to assume the debt ZBC has so that we restore some viability to ZBC.
“But of course the debt assumption only removes the debt, it does not ensure that there is viability by way of balancing costs of doing business and the revenue that business generates. It means you have to underpin that with massive restructuring,” he said.
Mr Charamba said ZBC also needed to be overhauled in its operations to keep it abreast with latest changes in the broadcasting field.
ZBC owes its employees US$9,6 million in salary arrears; US$15,4 in obligations to statutory bodies; medical aid and pension funds; US$9,7 million to other creditors and US$6,9 million to the Iranian government that was incurred at the initial attempt to digitalise by the corporation and bank overdraft of US$2,8 million.
Mr Charamba said because of the failure to pay salaries, the ZBC debt was ballooning every month as it could only generate US$1,1 million against expenditure of at least US$3 million.
He told the committee that the decision to send chief executive officer Mr Happpison Muchechetere and general manager for finance Retired Brigadier-General Elliot Kasu on leave and the dissolution of the board of directors was to facilitate auditing of the institution without undue influence.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo, requested the Office of the Auditor and Comptroller-General to carry out a forensic audit of the institution. Yesterday Mr Charamba said the ministry had been aware of the problems facing ZBC for some time.
“We were seized with the matter quite far back but we also discovered we could have moved in quite urgently during the period of Minister Shamu, who was also quite aware of the problem, but we hesitated for two basic reasons.
“The key reason was we were moving towards general elections and ZBC’s legal status during elections gets redefined in a fundamental way because ZBC’s legal status during the elections is viewed as an aspect of the total matrix of determining the freeness and fairness of elections. For that reason ZBC literally transferred from the ministry to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
“We did not want to transfer to ZEC an institution which was in turbulence managerially,” he said. He also said the constitution-making process and also the political bickering among partners of the inclusive Government over the mandate of ZBC had also distracted them from ZBC’s problems.