Since the advent of the GNU in 2009, there have been high expectations that the culture of governance will change for the better since the two MDC parties were now part of the ruling coalition. The MDC formations have for years been preaching good governance, transparency and accountability before they got into government, but now it seems they have just jumped onto the gravy train and are enjoying the ride, while they have conveniently forgotten their promises to the electorate.
Besides being accomplices in Zanu PF corruption and incompetence, the parties are failing to curb waste in government. Government has been splashing on luxury vehicles for ministers, the army, police and intelligence services, while failing to pay civil servants decent salaries and ensure adequate and smooth service delivery to taxpayers.
Education minister, David Coltart, has been quoted as saying the coalition government spent three times more on foreign junkets by top government officials last year than on schooling. Government spent US$14,8 million on its 3 000 schools, excluding salaries, but wasted more money on foreign trips.
President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, along with their hangers-on, used up to US$45 million in travel expenses abroad. “It’s shameful,” Coltart said. “The infrastructure in our schools is in a crisis. We are undermining the education of an entire generation.”
While the country’s infrastructure continues to deteriorate and the economy remains stuck in the woods, despite modest recovery, millions of taxpayers’ money are being spent on ensuring government chefs live in luxury surrounded by a sea of poverty stricken masses.
Last week the Independent exclusively revealed the Zimbabwe Republic Police has splurged over US$7,5 million dollars on luxury vehicles ranging from BMW 328i saloon cars, Range Rover Sport, Nissan Navara LE double cabs and Ford Ranger LXT double cab Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs).
The police purchase of cars overshot by three times the department’s US$2,6 million budget for cars this year. This is despite the police facing perennial shortage of resources, resulting in their stations using manual typewriters, cops hitch-hiking to attend crime scenes and a shortage of uniforms.
Police are not the only government institution facing lack of resources amid serious waste by officials. The military, prisons, parastatals, clinics and hospitals, state-owned universities and colleges, schools and other crucial departments like immigration, registrar generals’ office and central vehicle registry are also in a similar situation. In fact, the whole government is reeling from financial problems.
Hospitals are understaffed, have limited supplies of medicines and broken down or dilapidated equipment. Some schools have poor classrooms and teachers’ houses resulting in most trained teachers shunning them, while tertiary institutions have dilapidated buildings. Students are dropping out due to exorbitant fees. They are also understaffed as most lecturers left for greener pastures in neighbouring countries as well as Europe, US, Australia and New Zealand.
Besides, government is currently locked in a stand-off with civil servants who are pressing for salary increments which authorities say they cannot afford due to lack of funds. Most civil servants earn way below the poverty datum line of US$504 per month. Government employees have threatened industrial action and recently petitioned President Robert Mugabe to have their salaries reviewed.
While government is unable to pay its workers, it has also lost several millions of dollars through the corruption-ridden Constituency Development Fund. Investigations into embezzlement of the fund by MPs have not secured a single conviction to date, even though more than six arrests have been made.
Corruption is still rampant in government. Diamond revenues are not properly accounted for, while looting by various means including tender manipulations and brazen theft continues.
Political analysts say while Zanu PF’s corruption and waste is well-known, the MDC parties’ complicity in the profligacy characterising the coalition government is most surprising.
Political commentator and social activist Blessing Vava said the premise of the coalition government was wrong as it was not about service delivery, but political accommodation.
“From the outset, it was clear that this government was extravagant and the partners were only interested in serving their own political and material interests. The size of government at the formation of the GNU clearly showed it’s about political accommodation and wealth accumulation, not serving the people,” Vava said.
The coalition government has a president with two deputies, a prime-minister with two deputies, 52 ministers and 18 deputy ministers governing a population of about 14 million people.
The size of the government is shocking when compared to bigger economies like the United States which has 14 secretaries (ministers) and less than six others who hold the equivalent rank, including the Attorney General, Chief of Staff and head of Environment Protection Agency.
Neighbouring South Africa, which has a population of 50 million, has about 35 ministers, showing Zimbabwe’s cabinet is bloated.
Commentator Jonathan Gandari said the situation showed that Zimbabwe’s government needs streamlining to ensure accountability and efficiency.
“This is what happens when you have public offices that are not accountable to the public,” said Gandari. “Actions like these (profligacy) should be understood in the context of lack of accountability by public offices in Zimbabwe.”
Gandari said the lack of strong checks and balances was encouraging wastefulness. “Without the policy framework to guide government expenditures and adequate checks and balances, the MDC parties do not have a basis to either restrain themselves or others. So they can’t resist joining the bandwagon. The MDC parties are in government but have not changed the culture of governance and other issues because they have no real power and influence.”
Finance minister Tendai Biti has in the past complained in parliament about the government’s foreign travel bill and purchase of expensive luxury vehicles ahead of capital projects investment.
However, his advice has fallen on deaf ears as both Mugabe and Tsvangirai continue to make foreign travels with bloated delegations.
Biti says due to limited revenues, salaries would only be reviewed if revenues from diamond sales start flowing properly into the fiscus. The minister has of late been complaining that diamond mining companies, especially Anjin, which is owned by the Chinese and the military, have not been remitting proceeds due to government.
While government officials and senior civil servants enjoy their gravy train, civil servants remain suffering and service delivery stalling or collapsing.