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MPs in travel scam

Itai Dzamara

MPs who represent constituencies outside Harare are raking in millions of dollars monthly from transport and accommodation allowances despite staying in the capital most of the time they are att

ending parliamentary sessions, investigations by Zimbabwe Independent have revealed.

In what could turn out to be a scandal to rival one that erupted in South Africa in July, it emerged that MPs use the out-of-town allowances facility as a cash cow on a bad day.

It has surfaced that a lax system at parliament allows MPs to pocket huge sums of money monthly in transport claims. There is no mechanism of verifying whether an MP really travelled the claimed distances every time he attends parliamentary business.

MPs are paid $2,1 million per month while governors get $2,8 million. Ministers are paid $3 million while the vice-president’s salary is $3,5 million.

Legislators however claim millions of dollars in travel allowances. The Independent this week established that MPs from Matabeleland get $25 million monthly in transport and accommodation allowances. MPs are also paid $180 000 per night if they stay with relatives or friends.

The clerk of parliament, Austin Zvoma, this week said their system only verifies whether an MP attended sittings or committee meetings to approve an allocation for transport. He said they also checked the mileage on MP’s vehicle to ascertain whether it tallies with the claim submitted and the parliamentary business attended.

“It is not our responsibility to follow the MP to establish whether he has indeed travelled from the address submitted,” Zvoma said.

“We check the register and confirm whether the member was present in the House as claimed or whether they attended a committee meeting. We could only confirm whether they travelled from say Zvishavane to Harare by stationing someone there, who would follow them all the way. The accounts department checks MPs’ vehicles’ mileage to confirm whether they have recorded the required distance.”

When a member is sworn in, he submits an address which is taken as their permanent residence. It is these addresses that parliament uses all the time the MPs claim transport allowances. Investigations by this paper revealed that a majority of MPs who represent constituencies outside Harare submitted addresses in their constituencies and claim transport allowances based on that.

Figures obtained from Zvoma show that transport allowances vary depending on the size of the MPs’ vehicle engine. However, most of the MPs’ vehicles – secured through a government loan scheme – have engine capacities of 3 000 cubic centimetres, which is the highest level. The allowance for the highest level is $11 125 per km for petrol and $11 029,82 for diesel.

For a trip from Bulawayo to Harare, a distance of 440 km, the allowance for a petrol vehicle would be $4,8 million. The same amount is allocated for the return trip. A return ticket to Bulawayo by Air Zimbabwe costs $774 000.

A claim for a trip from Masvingo to Harare, which is 298 km, using a petrol vehicle, earns the legislator $3,3 million multiplied by two for the return journey.

During parliamentary sessions, MPs are usually required to attend weekly. MPs from outside the capital claim that they go to their constituencies every weekend. This means an MP can make four claims a month, which translates to $38,4 million for an MP based in Bulawayo.

Parliament pays accommodation allowances straight to three-star hotels.

Sources said there had been complaints by the Ministry of Finance over the expenses incurred by parliament, especially on transport allowances, which they say gobble the largest chunk of parliament’s annual budget.

But Zvoma said: “We haven’t had any investigated or verified cases of the abuse of the system.”

All that is required to obtain the accommodation allowance is confirmation that an MP attended parliamentary business. In the case of hotels, it has to be confirmed that the MP stayed at a particular hotel, to which the money is paid directly.

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