Companies forced to sponsor First Lady

FINANCIALLY-troubled state-owned enterprises and parastatals are being forced to part with between US$35 000 and US$120 000 in contributions to First Lady Grace Mugabe’s 50th birthday fundraising dinner, the Zimbabwe Independent has established.

Wongai Zhangazha

The soliciting of funds from state entities, most of which are either broke, a perennial drain on the fiscus or technically insolvent, will further worsen their precarious financial position.

Grace will have a fundraising dinner dance at the First Family’s Borrowdale Brooke residence on Saturday.

In an advert, the “Amai Grace Mugabe @50” organising committee invited individuals and organisations to deposit cash donations into a CBZ account under the name “Amai Grace Mugabe Jubilee”.

According to the advert, the sponsors’ package includes advertising space at the event, a five-minute slot on the programme for the major sponsors to profile their organisation, platinum branding for Grace’s table, a seat at Grace’s table and acknowledgement in the programme booklet, among other benefits.

State enterprises and parastatals have not been spared when it comes to contributing to this event, as some were given formal directives to make contributions to the programme. The entities continue to be feeding troughs for corrupt ministers and other senior government officials.

A senior government official who requested anonymity said it was worrying how government expected parastatals to perform when they were forced to fund First Family events like President Robert Mugabe’s birthday celebrations and Zanu PF functions.

“You have parastatals being asked to pay between US$35 000 and US$120 000 depending on how they are rated. In a year, there are many of these requests to the same state entities,” said the official.

According to the source, the funds are drawn from mainly cash-generating parastatals such as Zimbabwe National Roads Administration (Zinara), Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa), NetOne and TelOne.

“Parliament should be criticised for turning a blind eye to this. It must be a matter of policy that parastatals are not allowed to fund such private, political party events,” the official said.

During the First Lady’s campaigns and rallies that led to the ouster of former vice-president Joice Mujuru last year, it emerged that Zesa contributed US$40 000 to the Manicaland Zanu PF Women’s League ahead of its congress last year.

It seems corporates in Zimbabwe — including some companies that would want to be seen as brands not hobnobbing with or subsidising dictatorship when they are actually doing just that — have to be in good books with Mugabe’s party, more specifically serve the interests of whichever Zanu PF faction has an upper hand at any particular moment in order to survive and safeguard their main objective — profit.

The situation is not peculiar to Zimbabwe as other countries have their own networks in terms of how business relates to the powerful elite.

Political analyst Stanley Tinarwo said arm-twisting state enterprises to fund Grace’s dinner is indicative of the thin line between party politics and the state.

Tinarwo said: “A birthday is essentially private so there is no need to use state resources to gratify the wife of a serving president. That state-owned enterprises are being ordered to contribute points to the heart of their failure to deliver important public services due to political patronage and contributions to the cult of personalities that bedevils Zimbabwean politics.”

Senior researcher for Zimbabwe and Southern Africa at Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division Dewa Mavhinga said the constitution and all other laws do not provide for state funding of the First Lady’s birthday jamboree.

“There is no basis at law for parastatals to be coerced to fund it (birthday). If state parastatals are being forced to contribute towards Grace Mugabe’s birthday then its criminal and the matter should be reported to the nearest police station for appropriate action,” said Mavhinga. “What is happening is a vain attempt to entrench family cultism through elevating private birthdays to national, state-funded events.”

In February, Zanu PF deputy secretary for Youth Affairs Kudzai Chipanga urged Grace to crack the whip on companies that refused to donate to Mugabe’s lavish birthday bash held in Victoria Falls in February. He singled out Schweppes Zimbabwe Limited, which he alleged refused to donate cash and bottled water as requested by the youths.

Zimbabwe’s largest telecommunications company, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe in July 2014 gave the cash-strapped government a US$30 million facility last year to pay civil servants salaries and other critical bills. Econet is just of the companies that have bailed out government openly over the years. Some do it secretly.

Transparency International Zimbabwe, in its 2014 Annual State of Corruption Report, called for a total overhaul of the regulatory framework in which state enterprises and parastatals operate so as to limit inappropriate political interference and protect them from cronyism, conflict of interest, corruption and nepotism.

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General Mildred Chiri has shown that 23 major parastatals posted losses of US$470 million between 2012 and 2014.

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