HomeAnalysisThe high cost of democracy . . . as by-elections, cars gobble...

The high cost of democracy . . . as by-elections, cars gobble US$22 million

BRIAN CHITEMBA
TREASURY paid ZW$3 billion (about US$20 million using the March official foreign exchange rates) to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) for the March 26 by-elections while an estimated US$2 million is likely to be splurged on vehicles for the newly elected Members of Parliament (MPs) at time when most citizens are sinking in a sea of poverty.

This comes at a time when the government used about US$270 million for the 2018 elections in 210 constituencies. With the elections slated for 2023, it means an estimated US$270 million can be gobbled by elections, depending with the number of constituencies after the delimitation process.

Again, more funds will be required for MPs’ new vehicles.

With Zimbabwe in perpetual electoral mode, over US$500 million will have been used in election processes between 2018 and 2023.

In an economy dogged by decayed infrastructure, run down hospitals and lack of sufficient energy, the US$500 million can be used to build roads, upgrade hospitals and construction of renewable energy sources such as solar.

Elections

A survey by the Zimbabwe Independent shows that it cost about US$1 million to build a one megawatt solar plant, meaning the US$500 million can produce 500MW. Or to go by the by-elections expenditure, Zimbabwe could erect a 20MW solar power plant.

On roads, an engineer said it cost about US$200 000 to build a 2,1 kilometre road, translating to about 200km road stretch from the by-elections US$20 million budget.

Zimbabweans voted for 28 MPs and 110 local authority councillors following vacancies caused mainly by recall of MPs by the MDC-T under the leadership and later the MDC Alliance led by Douglas Mwonzora.

An investigation by the Independent in collaboration with the Information for Development Trust (IDT) — a non-profit organisation that assists journalists in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa to probe issues of corruption and bad governance — showed that the by-elections, which were created by the complications of the political matrix between the MDC and the ruling Zanu PF cost the battered economy ZW$3 billion (about US$20 million).

The investigation used data from Zec and interviews with parliamentary portfolio committees on Public Accounts and that of Budget, Finance and Economic Development.

This happened as the country prepares for another election in 2023 — exactly a year after the March 26 by-elections where the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) won 19 of the 28 parliamentary seats (67,9% of the vote), while the remainder went to Zanu PF.

Mwonzora’s MDC Alliance failed to win a single seat.

The new MPs will get double cab vehicles which cost an average of about US$75 000 at local dealerships. And with the 28 lawmakers; the total cost for the cars will hover at around US$2,1 million.

If the MPs contest and win in the 2023 elections, government will, again, buy them and other law-makers new cars at the taxpayer’s expense.

Constitutionally, Zimbabwe holds elections to choose a president, MPs and councillors, every five years as the country is a constitutional democracy characterised by elected representatives.

Zec spokesperson Jasper Mangwana said the electoral body was allocated ZW$3 billion by the government for the by-elections.

Under the 2022 national budget, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube allocated ZW$3,25 billion towards the March 26 by-elections. Another ZW$7 billion (about US$42 million) was allocated for preparatory work for the 2023 national elections.

The by-elections funds were used for voter education, voter registration, voting materials, such as, ballot boxes and papers.

“What I would tell you is that the government provided the commission with adequate funding to conduct the by-elections. We managed to achieve all that we intended to do. There were no budgetary constraints,” Mangwana said.

On the budget for the 2023 national elections, the Zec spokesperson said the commission was waiting for the delimitation process, which is likely to be done following the conclusion of census on April 30.

“Delimitation will inform us on a number of things as we go into 2023. Well, some of the challenges that we faced during the by-elections is that the weather was not good and our tents and voters’ rolls were affected by the wet weather. Even some voters were over excited and posted information on social media in violation of electoral laws,” he said.

“The voter registration for the 2023 elections is going on very well. Our 73 offices — that is, 63 district and 10 provinces will be open so that people can do continuous voter registration.”

Zec registered over 110 000 new prospective voters in 2 723 centres during the recent 20-day registration exercise which ended on April 30, 2022 but electoral watchdogs warned that the figure was too low.

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Accounts chairperson, Brian Dube said the ZW$3 billion budget for the March 26 by-election was proof that democracy comes at a high cost, especially for a battered economy where social amenities such as hospitals were dilapidated.

“Politicians have cost the fiscus of huge sums of money which could have been used to better livelihoods,” he said.

Economist Lazarus Masunungure said election funding had repo effect and affect the integrity of polls.

“If we are to make reference to the previous Kenyan election, there a budget of US$1 billion but the election commission got US$500 million. Therefore, electoral processes are costly,” he said.

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