Chiefs’ benefits to gobble $27,5b

Shakeman Mugari

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe plans to spend an unbudgeted $27,5 billion on chiefs’ vehicles and other perks, in a move calculated to win their support ahead of parliamentary elections, currently s

cheduled for March.

The Zimbabwe Independent heard this week that Mugabe had already started dishing out vehicle loans as part of efforts to secure the support of the country’s 268 traditional leaders throughout the country.

It is understood that 177 substantive chiefs will be entitled to new vehicles and other incentives offered by the Zanu PF government. The government has since identified the Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries-assembled Mazda B1800 pick-up as the standard vehicle for chiefs. The 177 Mazda B1800 pick-up trucks would cost $13,6 billion.

The scheme, launched by Mugabe at the chiefs’ assembly in Masvingo last week, is seen by analysts as a bid by the ageing nationalist to induce chiefs to spearhead the ruling party’s campaign for the March 2005 election.

In the Gutu North constituency by-election earlier this year, chiefs and other traditional leaders played a pivotal role in Zanu PF’s victory, threatening to expel opposition MDC supporters from their areas if the ruling party lost. Some chiefs were physically restrained by police from recording names of people who had come to vote. They ordered voters to form queues according to their villages at polling stations.

The government has already purchased 28 Mazda B1800 vehicles to be handed over to the chiefs on the basis of seniority. The 28 vehicles were acquired from Willowvale for $2 billion at last week’s price of $72 519 000.

With effect from this week a new Mazda B1800 vehicle now costs $77 151 200 million at the factory price, said an inside source yesterday.

Government will also fork out an extra $1,36 billion in insurance fees for the vehicles. Zimbabwe has 268 chiefs, 91 of whom are still in acting capacities and therefore do not qualify for the vehicle scheme. Once the 91 acting chiefs become substantive, government will need a further $7 billion for vehicle purchases and an extra $700 million in insurance for their cars.

Local Government deputy minister, Chief Fortune Charumbira, who is also the secretary-general of the Council of Chiefs, said the scheme was similar to the one available to parliamentarians.

“It’s not like the government will be buying chiefs cars. They are just loans for them to purchase vehicles,” said Charumbira.

He said the vehicles would be supplied in batches.

“We have 177 substantive chiefs who qualify for a vehicle under the scheme. We will get the cars from Willowvale Motors,” said Charumbira.

The substantive chiefs will this year also gobble $3,2 billion in allowances from government. Currently a chief earns $1,5 million per month.

Government has already started electrifying chiefs’ homesteads under the rural electrification programme. Figures sourced from Zesa’s Rural Electrification Agency reveal that it costs $32 million to construct a 1 km power line and install a 50KVA transformer.

Chiefs have been accused by analysts of being used as foot soldiers in Zanu PF’s campaign machinery. They have been instrumental in the distribution of food along party lines as part of Mugabe’s plans to starve opposition supporters into line.

Analysts have questioned Mugabe’s generosity, especially given that the country is only 10 months away from a parliamentary election.