GOVERNMENT will soon splurge millions of United States (US) dollars to buy luxury homes for Cabinet ministers and their deputies at a time President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration is battling an unprecedented economic meltdown, which has pushed prices of basic commodities out of the reach of many, the Zimbabwe Independent can reveal.
Ministers are a part of the few people in Zimbabwe who enjoy opulence through luxury perks sponsored by the taxpayer.
The housing programme, according to sources close to the initiative, will see deputy and Cabinet ministers drawing loans of US$350 000 and US$500 000, respectively, to buy plush homes. The money can buy a house in affluent suburbs of the capital, such as Mt Pleasant, Alexander Park, Borrowdale and Chisipite.
During this week’s press conference by Finance and Economic Development minister Mthuli Ncube, the government sought to appease civil servants by introducing a housing loan scheme as part of efforts to contain pressure from workers.
The security sector is also set to benefit from the housing loans.
Confidential sources, in separate briefings this week, told the Independent that the housing scheme for the ministers was Mnangagwa’s brainchild.
Mnangagwa’s administration has about 45 Cabinet, provincial and deputy ministers.
The provincial ministers, just like ministers of state and deputy ministers, who do not sit in Cabinet, are also expected to benefit from the loan facility.
The housing loan scheme is run by an inter-ministerial committee comprising of Treasury, ministries of Local Government and Public Works, and National Housing and Social Amenities.
“The President came up with a housing scheme for government ministers after realising that most of them end up destitute when they get out of government,” a source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Independent.
“So, recently he offered to buy houses for all ministers at a cost of US$500 000 and deputy ministers at a cost of US$350 000 each.”
Cabinet ministers, their deputies, ministers of state and provincial ministers are appointed by the President.
As part of their (ministers) terms of service, they also receive benefits which include two vehicles (a Mercedes Benz sedan and an off-roader), a secretary, security at the principal residence, and protocol aides.
After serving in government, those staying in houses owned or leased by the state vacate the properties.
In addition to that, ministers also receive travel allowances.
Cabinet ministers, their deputies, ministers of state and provincial ministers also benefit from the loans advanced to parliamentarians.
The housing scheme comes amidst a sea of poverty as Zimbabwe is burdened with a 1,5 million housing backlog. The population is estimated at about 15 million – the actual figure is going to be revealed soon following a population census conducted this year.
At least 1,2 million people are on the government’s housing waiting list, according to the Ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities.
The housing scheme for ministers, however, is birthed in the middle of an imploding economy characterised by stratospheric yearly inflation of 191,7%, and steep accommodation rentals denominated in United States dollars yet most workers earn the ever-depreciating Zimbabwean dollar (Zimdollar).
The latest figures from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) show that the cost of living for a family of six in June soared to ZW$110 550 (US$297) from ZW$14 041 (US$38) for monthly expenses as the local unit continues to tumble in value against the greenback.
Despite the deepening economic meltdown, which has resulted in protracted negotiations over salary reviews between the government and civil servants, Mnangagwa’s administration, running on a shoestring budget, has offered a housing scheme for bureaucrats.
National Housing and Social Amenities minister Daniel Garwe did not respond to questions posed by the Independent for reasons that he was out of the country on government business.
“Good morning. I am out of the country on government business,” Garwe replied via WhatsApp.
The Independent sought to understand how much the Treasury had budgeted for the programme, the loan amounts recipients were going to receive, repayment terms, and whether the loans were being disbursed already.
National Housing ministry secretary Joy Pedzisai Makumbe said she was going to “forward” the inquiries to the ministry’s communications department.
“Hello. I will forward the questions to our publicity department,” she responded.
Prior to that, the publication had also sent the questions to the ministry’s head of Communications Sikha Ncube who said the questions were being addressed before she finally said she was out of the country.
“The responses are being cleared. I will send once approved,” she said, referring the Independent to a staffer (name supplied) in the department.
“We will get back to you when we consolidate the facts. I didn’t get anything as of today, ” the referred staffer said.
Questions sent to Treasury through the chief director of communications Clive Mphambela drew blanks at the time of going to press. The questions were forwarded to the relevant department in the ministry.
Efforts to get a comment from Presidential spokesperson George Charamba were futile as he was not reachable yesterday.
The multi-faceted economic crisis, which fiscal and monetary authorities are battling to contain, has also resulted in a restive workforce and the collapse of the public health delivery system.
Last week nurses downed tools in protest over low salaries and threatened to resume the industrial action in a fortnight if their salary review demands are not met. Teachers at public schools are also demanding a minimum monthly salary of US$540 which the government is reluctant to pay.
In the face of the economic malaise, Treasury this week announced a raft of monetary measures to stem the economic tide, particularly skyrocketing inflation and low civil service wages.
At the heart of the measures, Ncube announced that Zimbabwe will embrace the US dollar as legal tender until 2025 while it will also mint gold coins in a bid to offer citizens a stable store of value.
Government, which is manoeuvring to charm multilateral lenders to unlock fresh lines of credit, has repeatedly made calls to cut public expenditure.
Zimbabwe has been saddled with a multi-billion dollar external debt overhang and the country is also under US sanctions imposed in 2001.