Uniformed forces fail to settle US$4m debt

ZIMBABWE’S uniformed forces have failed to settle a debt of close to US$4 million for combat boots supplied by an Italian-owned shoe manufacturing company near Marondera, Eagle Italian Shoes and Leather.

Elias Mambo

Sources at Eagle Italian Shoes said the company is on the verge of collapse after the uniformed forces failed to pay for more than 57 000 pairs combat boots delivered since 2013, with each pair costing about US$70.

“We are no longer working the whole week because the company is experiencing serious liquidity problems as the army, Zimbabwe Republic Police and the prison services have not settled their bill since 2013,” said a source at the firm who now works three days a week.

Eagle Italian Shoes currently employs about 100 workers after laying off some employees soon after its December shut down owing to the harsh economic climate.

Company sources said they had tried all avenues to make the uniformed forces pay up but to no avail.

“We used to produce up to 500 pairs of boots per day but production has decreased because of the liquidity crisis and the fact that government departments are not paying,” a source said.
The uniformed forces also owe several other indigenous clothing companies hundreds of thousands of dollars after failing to pay them for the supply of uniforms, a situation that has left them on the brink of collapse, sources say.

An owner of one of the clothing companies owed more than US$40 000 by the uniformed forces, who preferred anonymity, said: “My company is struggling and I am about to close shop because government departments are failing to pay us for supplying them with various products. How do they expect us to survive?”

“We, however, know that there are some companies that have links to the big bosses within the uniformed forces and other government departments which are being paid well on time. But we can’t say much for fear of jeopardising our chances of getting paid.”

Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson, Colonel Overson Mugwisi, said he was not aware that the uniformed forces have such debts.

“I am not aware of anything concerning debts but I will forward your enquiry to the procurement department,” Mugwisi said.
The failure to settle debts comes despite government allocating the lion’s share of the 2015 budgetary votes to the Ministry of Defence.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa allocated US$379 million to the Defence ministry saying it needed to upgrade its training equipment and beef up its staff.

However, since November last year the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) officers have been forced to go on forced one-month paid leave after every month in an effort to reduce expenditure on food and other expenses at barracks.

Last year, junior army officials also told the Zimbabwe Independent their superiors had ordered them to seek alternative accommodation when they are off duty instead of staying in barracks.

A parliamentary report on Defence and Home Affairs last year painted a gloomy picture of the financial position of Zimbabwe’s defence forces, with some soldiers unable to access healthcare because of the army’s debts.

The report also stated that Zimbabwe’s security forces were failing to fulfil all their mandates because of a lack of funds.