THE State Procurement Board is currently facilitating the purchase of new cars for senior government officials as the cash-strapped Treasury splurges millions of dollars on luxury vehicles ahead of next year’s general elections, it has been established.
By Bernard Mpofu/Elias Mambo
Treasury is currently operating in tight budget that has resulted in staggered salary payment dates for the civil service and limited funding for capital expenditure and social spending.
The purchase of new cars, estimated to cost well over US$20 million, barely a year ahead of general elections, points to systematic self-aggrandisement and patronage by the current administration.
According to salespersons at Premier Auto, a leading Land Rover dealer, the price of a Range Rover varies from US$150 000 for a 3-litre diesel engine to a whopping US$192 000 for the same engine capacity but with superior specifications.
Recurrent expenditure accounts for over 90% of total revenue, thereby crowding out funding for capital expenditure and social spending. Zimbabwe’s executive currently consists of 33 ministers, 22 deputies and 33 permanent secretaries. Senior officials from the Office of the President and the Civil Service Commission also enjoy executive perks such as luxury cars.
Sources close to the developments said government has already offered ministers, deputy ministers and senior bureaucrats vehicles which they are currently using at heavily discounted prices. This comes barely three years after President Robert Mugabe reshuffled his cabinet after former Vice-President Joice Mujuru and other ministers linked to her were kicked out of government. Following this purge, new cars were bought for the ministers that were sworn in.
Cabinet ministers currently have top-of-the-range Mercedes Benz sedans, Range Rovers and Land Cruisers. Deputy ministers have the latest all-terrain Mazda BT50s as well as Mercedes Benz sedans.
Government sources said ministers, who already have several luxury vehicles amid mass poverty and suffering, are given the option to purchase the cars at 10% of original value after two years or if the vehicles have clocked more than 100 000 kilometres. Government sells vehicles at “book value”—a token, giveaway amount.
“Given the way ministers travel around the country, all their vehicles should be clocking more than 100 000km by year-end, meaning the vehicles will be sold for a song,” said one official, adding: “The shelf life of government vehicles is now at three years so the current fleet was purchased in 2013.”
A source said the move to purchase new vehicles ahead of the elections is a way of siphoning funds from government coffers, as well as “handing the ministers golden handshakes” in the event that some win in the 2018 elections.
“It is a pension to them and not even one minister will shoot that down because they are not sure of what will happen in the 2018 elections,” another source said.
Another government source said some vehicles for the ministers were delivered two months ago while others are yet to be delivered.
“Two months ago the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) took delivery of new Datsun vehicles. When these were delivered, some top-of-the-range vehicles were also delivered and are awaiting distribution,” the source said.
Deputy chief secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet Ray Ndhlukula declined to comment when reached for comment.
“Sorry, cannot confirm. SPB are themselves in a better position to confirm,” Ndhlukula replied in a written response.
In an interview, minister of Transport Joram Gumbo said tenders for the vehicles are done by the SPB which is under the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
“I am not aware of that. We do not purchase government vehicles. If the tenders are being flighted by the SPB, then the issue is under the OPC not Transport ministry,” Gumbo said.
Efforts to get a comment from SPB chairperson Buzwani Mothobi were in vain as his mobile phone went unanswered while messages sent to him were not responded to.
In 2015, government splurged about US$50 million on 633 vehicles which included all-terrain troop-carrying trucks, water cannons, buses and equipment, mostly used by military and police, as it secretly bolsters its instruments of repression to combat any possible Arab spring-style uprising due to the explosive socio-economic situation in the country.
Before that, following the 2013 elections in which Zanu PF retained power after the tenure of the Inclusive Government lapsed, Treasury splashed close to US$20 million on luxury cars, including Mercedes-Benz sedans and sport utility vehicles for 26 cabinet ministers, 13 ministers of state and 24 deputies at a time more than two million people are reportedly facing starvation.