THE US$600 million Chisumbanje ethanol project is threatened with collapse as Zanu PF chiefs, including Cabinet ministers, demand free shares in the lucrative venture under the guise of indigenisation.

Sources close to the project told The Standard last week that powerful people who include MPs, Cabinet ministers and other top government officials (names supplied) were demanding free shares for themselves so as to facilitate the smooth flow of the project.

"The sharks have realised the potential of the project and their mouths are wide open, ready to pounce," said one of the sources. The ethanol project is a partnership between the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (Arda) and Billy Rautenbach's Green Fuels, Rating and Macdom Investments in a 20-year Build-Operate-and-Transfer (BOT) arrangement signed in 2009.

The source said some politicians were claiming Rautenbach, who was born in Zimbabwe and is linked to Zanu PF, was not indigenous, hence he has to cede 51% shareholding to them in accordance with the indigenisation and economic empowerment act. "He is Zimbabwean, but of the wrong colour," said the source.

Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment minister Saviour Kasukuwere yesterday professed ignorance that there were sharks waiting to grab free shares in the project.

He however, added that a ministerial committee had been set up to look at the issue of the indigenisation of the multi-million project.

"Discussions are still taking place but I am not yet aware of people interested in the project," he said.

State Enterprises and Restructuring Agency executive director, Edgar Nyoni, recently told a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on State Enterprises and Parastatals that the government was considering transforming the deal from a BOT into a joint venture project.

Company officials fear over 5 000 jobs are under threat after production stopped almost two months ago after the plant reached its 10 million litres storing capacity.

Last week, 20-worker representatives travelled to Harare, where they sought audience with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Energy and Power Development minister Elton Mangoma and Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development minister, Joseph Made, who is chairing a ministerial committee on Chisumbanje.

The workers fear the project could collapse like the still-born Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe bio-diesel project in Mount Hampden or Kondozi farm which crumbled after government ejected its white owners.

Officials on the other hand, are worried that the parent ministry has not shown visible support for the project despite its magnitude.

Although Tsvangirai has visited Chisumbanje, minister Mangoma has reportedly not set foot at the ethanol project which is one of the biggest investments in the country since 1980.

Mangoma could not be reached for comment as his mobile phone was not available since Friday.

But it has since emerged that a council of ministers will tomorrow discuss the contentious issue of the introduction of mandatory fuel blending in Zimbabwe. The issue will also go before full Cabinet on Tuesday, sources said.

"It is only after the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that we will know our fate. We are prepared to make presentations and argue our case before cabinet," said another source.

Most of the over 400 fuel service stations in the country have not yet embraced ethanol blending, dubbed E10. Some of them have no capacity to hold three product lines, while others are reluctant to introduce the product because they were smuggling or clandestinely importing fuel already blended, revealed an oil industry insider.

The insider also blamed poor marketing for the current low acceptance of E10 which is now a hit in countries such as Brazil and Europe. South Africa is proposing the mandatory blending of bio-fuels with petrol and diesel which is expected to boost sorghum output sixfold.

Rautenbach and Green Fuels spokesperson, Lillian Muungani, could not be reached for comment.

source: allafrica

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