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Fix the rot at ZUPCO

12 Feb 2015 at 15:52hrs | Views
The report that the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (ZUPCO) has sent over hundred of its workers on unpaid six months leave is quite distressing.

When I read the story, I reflected back to the 80s and early 90s when, as little children used to envy people working for this state enterprise. ZUPCO had the smartest and most professional crew, starting with the conductors, drivers, ticket checkers and office staff. It was the most reliable bus operator for both rural and urban commuters.

Although it charged the cheapest fares, business was evergreen for ZUPCO. It was number choice for anybody who needed a comfortable ride. Those were the days that the state owned bus company dominated the transport business in the urban areas.
Today, the bus company is a pale shadow of itself. The company is on the verge of collapse due to several reasons that range from corruption, maladministration and of course the economic hardships. Government has tried several times to inject new life into ZUPCO, but in many cases, the new life has been short-lived.

Just in 2013, 100 buses were bought from India. However, the fleet has drastically depleted. The remaining buses are in a sorry state.

I saw one of its cross border buses at a service station in Harare. A Dotito farmer would have been forgiven if she had run for it, believing it was one of the buses that ply her route. The bus had worn out tyres, very dirty and even the chassis seemed not to be in shape.

ZUPCO has cited viability challenges for sending its 100 workers on unpaid leave. It is true that the operating environment is not friendly at all. However, the playing ground is not only unlevel to ZUPCO per se. The same environment that is forcing ZUPCO to fold, is the same that the likes of Pioneer, Mupfumi, Kukura Kurerwa and Inter Africa, among others, are operating in.

These and many other bus operators are making profits in the same harsh economic environment that ZUPCO has failed to stand. We cannot continue to hide behind a finger. Something has to be done on ZUPCO if we really want our economy to work again.

As we look east, we must also learn from their business models. The giant economy of China is state driven. Likewise, our parastatals and state enterprises must lead in the resuscitation of this economy.

There must be people with business shrewdness at the helm of these companies. It must not be business as usual, if we really want to have things work again. Gone are the days when the Chief Executive Officers of parastatals were appointed on nepotistic basis. Tried and tested managers with traceable records must be given the responsibility to drive the economic vision of this nation as enshrined in the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-economic Transformation (ZIMASSET).

In view of this, a relook at the people who manage ZUPCO and many other non-performing parastatals is paramount. We need to know if the board of directors have the prerequisite skills and experience needed to run such vital institutions. The boards of such companies must not be havens for failed politicians and relatives. Parastatals must not be private clubs; as such, non-performers must shape up or ship out.

We have a case in point where politicians, whose business records are misty, sit on boards of ZESA and its eight subsidiaries. If one is a failure at a previous assignment, what assurance does the minister have to believe that the appointee will succeed in the new assignment? We have plenty of people with the business expertise from which we can tap.
We need visionary managers at our state enterprises who do not just watch things falling while complaining about sanctions. It is a fact that sanctions are with us. As such, we now need men and women who are capable of driving our enterprises past the sanctions. These people should be creative enough to devise ways of defeating the sanctions. The Gono way of dealing with sanctions is what is needed.

The fall of ZUPCO in the urban market has been attributed to competition following the liberalisation of the urban transport sector. Visionary managers must adjust to new environments. ZUPCO should have ventured into the kombis if they were the new mode of transport favoured by the urban populace. If it means tractors are the new favourite mode, let it be. After all business is all about following the customer. Other parastatals survived similar competition after the liberalisation of the sectors in which they used to enjoy monopoly.

The Zimpapers remain afloat despite many other stables coming on board. I suggest managers of parastatals must form an association where they share ideas of carrying out their mandates. With such an association, those who manage successful enterprises like Zimpapers can teach their fellow managers at ZUPCO, NRZ, Air Zimbabwe and many others.

Government cannot fold hands while state strategic companies tumble, leaving hundreds of workers without employment. We have Zim-Asset where we need to create employment. It will defeat the essence of this blue print if the rate of job loss exceeds that of job creation.

ZUPCO is even struggling to pay off the workers it retrenched in as far back as 2010. I hope the management is not paying itself mega salaries when things are this bad.

Source - John Sigauke
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