VICE-President Joice Mujuru and Finance minister Tendai Biti this week unusually closed political ranks and threatened MPs from Zanu PF and MDC-T with expulsion from their parties if they blocked the 2011 national budget, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.The legislators were told bluntly in separate meetings held on Tuesday and Wednesday that they would be fired if they blocked Biti’s bid to have the budget passed without amendment. This marked unfamiliar cooperation between the two main parties in parliament which are usually fighting for control and dominance.
While Biti held several meetings with chief whips, MDC-T and Zanu PF senior backbenchers and also addressed his party’s caucus to whip MPs into line, Mujuru sent a chilling message through former Health minister David Parirenyatwa just before the debate on the budget started on Wednesday, ordering her party’s MPs to help pass the budget without any amendment.
Parirenyatwa is a Mujuru loyalist.
Biti used a carrot-and-stick approach when he promised MPs new single-cab pick- up vehicles in the New Year if they passed the budget, which, combined with threats of expulsion, helped to ensure the budget sailed through the House of Assembly on Wednesday without any debate.
Biti had lobbied hard for the budget to go through. The Finance minister held marathon meetings with chief whips and senior Zanu PF and MDC-T legislators on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. He issued threats of dismissal but also promised MPs new cars, while saying he would in addition write off their car loans. Most MPs have got two cars, one of which they are making loan repayments on.
Zanu PF chief whip Joram Gumbo and Budget and Finance portfolio committee chairperson Paddy Zhanda confirmed that they were threatened with expulsion and also promised new vehicles.
Gumbo said the meetings produced nothing except promises. “We held two meetings with the minister.
He did not give in to our demands to review allocations to agriculture, welfare of MPs, constituency development fund or the taxation of imported foodstuffs as a means to promote the local industry. He merely promised to provide new single cab pick-up vehicles to MPs in the coming year and to consider writing off car loans,” Gumbo said.
Zhanda expressed disappointment with the outcome of the meetings, particularly the threats implied by the minister against those who wanted to oppose him.
“We failed the nation. The minister did not take our input into consideration. We were reminded that tampering with the budget was akin to challenging the whole question of the establishment of the inclusive government,” Zhanda said.
In addition to the two meetings, MDC-T MPs had a party caucus during which they were told to either pass the budget or resign.
Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe and national party youth chairperson Thamsanqa Mahlangu attended the caucus meeting that was addressed by Biti.
MDC-T chief whip Innocent Gonese refused to comment on what transpired in their party caucus, saying it was confidential.
Sources within MDC-T, however, revealed that MPs were whipped into line through threats of expulsion.
“We were bluntly told to vote for the budget or resign. To carry the threat forward there was a register of all members who were in the House to check which way they would vote if the House was divided,” the source said.
A Zanu PF source said his party’s MPs had been told just before debate started on Wednesday that Mujuru had instructed them to pass the budget without amendment.
“In a twist to the earlier agreed party position not to pass Votes 22 and 23, Parirenyatwa was sent by Mujuru to tell members to pass everything without debate. We were all shocked,” said the source.
Vote 22 is an allocation to the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity while Vote 23 was for Small and Medium Enterprises and cooperative Development.
The ministries were allocated $5,6 million each.
Mwenezi East MP Kudakwashe Bhasikiti (Zanu PF) who moved a motion proposing that steps be taken to improve conditions of service for civil servants, was shocked together with other parliamentarians that the budget was being passed without any objections.
“In politics nothing is certain — it happens. We got it all wrong,” Bhasikiti said.
Parliamentarians from the three parties last week in an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent called for the suspension of the whipping system during the budget debate to ensure that debate is not stifled.
Zhanda, Bhasikiti and Ronald Ndava from Zanu PF and Shepherd Mushonga and Takalani Matibe from MDC-T were opposed to the whipping system, while Dorcas Sibanda (MDC-T) argued that the system could not just be wished away as it served certain purposes in governance.
Budget passing timeline behind the scenes:
At 2pm Mujuru instructs Zanu PF MPs to block Votes 22 and 23 of the budget. The message was sent through Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and Gumbo. At 7pm Biti meets chief whips and senior backbenchers. Shoots down demands from MPs. Promises to write off car loans and offers new single-cab trucks next year. By 9pm Biti confirms to Zimbabwe Independent that the budget would pass after negotiations behind the scenes.
At 10am MDC-T caucus MPs whipped into line after being given a choice to “vote or resign”. Around 12 pm Gumbo, Zhanda and other MPs meet Biti at his offices to gain some concessions but got nothing.
At 2pm Mujuru through Parirenyatwa orders Zanu PF MPs to pass the budget without any amendment. 3pm Biti tells the House that voting against the budget is an attack on the GPA and the inclusive government. 4pm budget passes without debate or amendment. 5pm MPs cry foul over whipping system.