March 16 vote: Why spend so much on non-event?

NOT too long ago, we had Finance minister Tendai Biti telling us of a paltry figure of less than US$250 being the balance in our national coffers.

Candid Comment by Itai Masuku

This was later contradicted by other members of the unity government, who probably felt the minister was trying to cause alarm and despondency.

The truth about our national financial position probably lay between the two claims or it was none of the above.

The reality is perhaps no one knows the truth. We’ll most likely know when the office of the Comptroller and Auditor-General gives us the accounts some two years down the line or so, as has traditionally been the case.

By that time, the figures will only be of historical or archival interest.

Right now political leaders seem to be gripped with the conclusion of the constitution-making process which we understand gobbled up some US$50 million over the past three years or so.

The referendum on the draft constitution, for which we are all being urged to vote “Yes” without question by our political leadership, is expected to cost between US$85 million and US$100 million. Together with general elections this would chew US$250 million.

Isn’t it interesting the process of drafting the new constitution, which entailed a nationwide outreach programme eliciting people’s views and collating data, costs four times less than the voting event itself? The constitution-making process took three years at US$50 million.

Yet the referendum, taking place within a month, needs up to US$100 million. One is still struggling with mathematics since schooldays!

One is also not completely sure what goes into the voting event itself, but supposes the ballot boxes have been in existence over the past 30 years or so, there is an assortment of vehicles to drive officials to various polling stations, most of which have traditionally been government schools. Surely the operating costs will mainly comprise administration, fuel, payment of polling officers etc.

There shouldn’t be much travel by polling officers because these are normally drawn from civil servants near the polling stations, or they should be. One would have thought we were going to a referendum on competing ideas as was the case during the year 2000 constitution debacle.

But given that there aren’t really any competing ideas, why are we spending all this money on this non-event? Since the masses are being asked to merely endorse the document by the three main political parties in government, why don’t the parties save the money, raise civil servants salaries or something, so that they are motivated to be civil to us when we go their offices and indeed behave like our servants, and not the other way round, instead of wasting funds on a charade?

Anyone who has gone to the passports office knows what we’re talking about here.

To make matters worse, those in the know tell us the current constitution is hardly different from the Kariba draft, which itself was not much different from the 2000 draft in some respects.

Overall, there is also very little difference between this draft and others which lie in government offices. Next time we have such a situation we should learn to use our brains to save money.


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