Bigwigs gobble US$11m in loans

SENIOR officials in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC), permanent secretaries and military officials were lavished with personal loans amounting to US$11 million at a time the cash-strapped government is struggling to pay its bloated workforce, the Zimbabwe Independent can exclusively reveal.

By Elias Mambo

A loan schedule shows government has, between 2014 and March 2017, advanced loans to senior public officials, some of whom topped up their initial loans, despite failing to service their debts.

This comes against the backdrop of a revelation by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri that the broke Treasury has failed to account for nearly US$570 million disbursed to unnamed beneficiaries in the form of loans, exposing bad governance, gross mismanagement of public funds and systematic looting by top officials.

The report raised concern over various issues, including maintenance of accounting records, fraudulent activities, transfers of money from fund accounts, outstanding payments to suppliers of goods and services, use of fund resources as collateral security and unsupported expenditures.

Government is spending more than 90% of revenue on recurrent expenditure, with the bulk going towards the payment of wages, leaving very little for capital expenditure and social services provision. Due to constrained cash flows, government has also been failing to pay its workers on time.

Documents seen by the Independent show that senior government officials, including those from the OPC, permanent secretaries, military, Zimbabwe Prison Services and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), have outstanding loans which they are struggling to service.

Finance ministry permanent secretary Willard Manungo tops the loan list, having acquired 10 loans to the tune of
US$174 000, Civil Service Commission (CSC) boss Mariyawanda Nzuwah (US$155 000), CSC secretary Pretty Sunguro (US$140 000), Media and Information ministry permanent secretary George Charamba (US$120 000), while Environment ministry’s permanent secretary Prince Mupaziriho has a loan amounting to US$110 000.

Comments could not be obtained from Manungo, Nzuwah, Sunguro and Mupaziriho as their mobile phones went unanswered.

Text messages sent to them delivered but were not responded to, including a WhatsApp message to Manungo.

Charamba’s mobile phone could not go through as he was said to be in Namibia on official government business.

Officials from the OPC, who include the chief secretary to the president and cabinet, Misheck Sibanda has a US$100 000 loan, Ray Ndhlukula (US$40 000) and Justin Mupamhanga (US$40 000).

Efforts to get comments from OPC were in vain as Sibanda, Ndhlukula and Mupamhanga were said to have been out of the office.

The loan schedule also shows that the government officials are paying back as little as US$200 monthly without much interest and the loans can be topped-up even before the previous ones are fully-serviced.

A top government insider said some officials who have the loans are even failing to pay back the small monthly amounts, but continue to borrow. “Nzuwa has three loans amounting to US$155 000 as shown on the schedule. He first applied for a US$50 000 and has an outstanding balance of US$39 000. He applied for a second one (US$30 000) and only paid US$5 000, then got a third loan (US$75 000),” the source said.

The source also said Sunguro has six loans which she has been servicing at a paltry US$212 monthly each.

“The loans have no time-frame, so senior government officials will continue to pay and top every time they need cash,” said the source, adding: “The loans are applied through one’s ministry and released by Treasury.”

Former finance minister Tendai Biti said he had always suspected that some Zanu PF loyalists, from the rank of permanent secretary upwards, have always benefited through unorthodox means.

“At the centre of this incestuous arrangement is Misheck Sibanda and those in OPC,” Biti said. “These are extra-legal benefits crafted to make sure that those senior civil servants benefit at the expense of the majority. They do not earn high salaries, but have you ever heard of a permanent secretary who resigned?” he asked.

Biti also said what Treasury is doing is in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act. “Any loan has to go through parliament because they are taking from public funds. The best government can do is to guarantee for its employees through a bank,” Biti said, adding: “Government is not a lender, so this whole arrangement is incestuous and opaque.”