Of Zimbabwe’s high-flying officials
BULAWAYO — It is a tale of two worlds: Of Zimbabwe’s elite, on one end, who want the finer things in life and those who care little for the posh life that comes with either being a member of parliament (MP) or a Cabinet minister, on the other end.
The latter group is, admittedly, rare.
Political office in Zimbabwe has often been equated with being the gateway to a life of opulence which, for the unaccustomed, can be all too overwhelming.
Flashy cars, such as the luxurious Mercedes Benz S Class and an off-road Range Rover or Toyota Fortuner are hard to resist.
Cap this with hefty allowances, free flights, a secretary and assistants, and 24-hour security at home and office, then the life of opulence becomes too tempting to resist.
This fanciful life was well summed-up by Patrick Zhuwao after he was appointed a Cabinet minister last September.
Zhuwao, the Youth Development, Empowerment and Indigenisation Minister, said: “I am enjoying this life. I no longer have to open the door to my car, although I want to. Whenever I want to get out of the car, I now just wait for someone to open the door for me after checking that everything is clear. If you look at my step, there is a spring to it. I walk with confidence.”
This life of high rolling is what probably contributed to Morgan Tsvangirai’s political woes when he became part of the government of national unity (GNU) between 2009 and 2013.
Critics accuse the Movement for Democratic Change leader of having lost touch with the grassroots after he began to enjoy the benefits of being in high office, following his appointment as prime minister in the GNU.
His weekly Monday meetings with his arch-nemesis, President Robert Mugabe, for “tea” at State House during GNU, further set tongues wagging that he had lost his way.
Three years after he vacated the government post, the former prime minister has refused to vacate a government mansion in the leafy Harare suburb of Highlands and go back to his modest lodgings in Strathaven from where he cut his teeth as a fire-brand trade unionist.
Given this short background, questions have been coming think and fast as to how government officials and MPs end up so rich given their otherwise modest allowances and perks.
Clerk of Parliament, Kennedy Chokuda, has ruffled feathers after dusting off the Standing Rules and Orders that were approved during the Sixth Parliament that allow for Parliament to launch a lifestyle audit for legislators and ministers.
Under the new parliamentary requirement, assets that legislators would be required to declare include land in and outside Zimbabwe, buildings, movable assets, financial assets and other assets such as jewellery worth more than US$25 000.
And the response from the public has been rapturous. Many feel that the benefits had far become a motivation for high office, rather than service delivery to the electorate and taxpayers who sustain the MPs’ high life.
Often, a talking point has been the MP for Umguza, Obert Mpofu, whose vast wealth has from time to time been questioned.
Mpofu, is known to hold interests in the safari and transport business, has a sprawling property portfolio spanning across Harare, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls and Hwange.
He dabbled in banking and the newspaper business, before his interests in Allied Bank and The Zimbabwe Mail collapsed.
Mpofu has also boasted of being the biggest cattle rancher in the entire Matabeleland region.
But, in the face of this public scrutiny, it has almost been like water off a duck’s back for Mpofu, who has maintained that all his dealings were above board and that he made his money while in the private sector in the 1990s, well before he had become a public office bearer.
Much of Bulawayo’s MPs seem to live a modest life with little of flashy lifestyles to write home about.
While the Minister of State for Bulawayo Metropolitan Province, Eunice Sandi-Moyo is chauffeur-driven in an E-Class Mercedes Benz, she is often seen in public on her own doing shopping at regular retail outlets.
The Makokoba legislator and War Veterans Minister, Tshinga Dube is more known for his philanthropic work than opulence in Bulawayo.
Dube has not been shy to dig into his own pockets to fund constituency activities.
Last year, he helped local soccer giants, Highlanders purchase a luxury coach.
Legislators canvassed this week on the looming lifestyle audit had differing opinions on the issue.
The MDC-T’s Bulawayo East legislator, Tabitha Khumalo, said the lifestyle audit was a good move, but the fundamental issue was whether all legislators would declare what they owned.
“For the system to be effective there is need for a verification exercise to ensure that everything has been declared. This will ensure that MPs do not just declare part of their wealth to please the public…,” Khumalo said.
Sports and Recreation Minister and Mberengwa East legislator, Makhosini Hlongwane, said declaration of assets by legislators has been on the cards for too long and it had to be implemented urgently.
“This is a noble idea if implemented without malice. Generally, abuse of office is not a good thing, we should use our offices to enhance the lives of the people and improve service delivery,” he said.
Hwange West legislator, Bekithemba Mpofu supported the lifestyle audit.
“I have got no problem with that and I am not scared of it,” he said.
In 2014, two ZANU-PF MPs, Justice Mayor Wadyajena and Temba Mliswa, rejected official vehicles offered through the parliamentary vehicle loan scheme, saying they did not go to Parliament to improve their lives, but their respective constituencies.
This stance and thinking is rare because many of the MPs are almost always just too happy to have the offer extended to them.
In 2014, government spent nearly US$15 million buying cars for the MPs and an additional US$1,2 million would be spent this year on vehicles for nearly 40 new legislators who were sworn in last year.
The MPs were elected after the MDC-T and ZANU-PF had recalled dozens of their MPs for changing political allegiances.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association secretary for administration, Anglistone Sibanda, said Zimbabweans could not wait any longer for a lifestyle audit, as it would foster accountability, reduce corruption and the abuse of public office.
“Public office has been abused and used as a means to gain power to loot state resources and enrich ministers, legislators and other government officials at the expense of citizens that have continued wallowing in abject poverty, while public officials amass wealth. There must be no sacred cows in this move and citizens should stop worshipping public officials, but treat them as public servants who are elected and employed to serve them and improve the standard of living for every citizen,” said Sibanda.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the southern African region, unlike in Zimbabwe, belt-tightening seems to be the new buzzword for some governments.
In Tanzania, President John Magufuli banned all, but essential foreign travels by office bearers.
He also restricted first class and business class tickets to the President, Vice President and Prime Minister.
Ministers and chief executives of parastatals fly economy with the ordinary people.
In March this year, South Africa’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was seen in economy class on a South African Airways flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg.
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