HomeHeadlinesMinisters’ houses secrecy deepens

Ministers’ houses secrecy deepens

TINASHE KAIRIZA
TOP bureaucrats in various government departments have been avoiding taking responsibility in answering questions surrounding the multi-million dollar housing loan scheme for government ministers and their deputies.

The loan scheme for the luxury houses comes at a time when the government is cash-strapped and failing to offer essential social services in public hospitals.

The Zimbabwe Independent first reported on July 1, about the housing loan facility being spearheaded by an inter-ministerial committee comprising of Treasury, ministries of National Housing and Social Amenities, and Local government and Public Works.

The Public Service Commission (PSC), chaired by Vincent Hungwe is said to be part of it. The Independent approached the PSC after the Deputy Chief Secretary — Presidential Communications George Charamba directed this publication to the commission.

Charamba said last week: “I should refer you to public service. They define their terms of service. If I comment I will be trespassing in an area which is not my domain. Speak to them.”

Information at hand indicates that government ministers, including cabinet, provincial and ministers of state, and their deputies will be accessing loans of US$500 000 and US$350 000, respectively, to buy plush homes. These top public officials already enjoy opulence amidst a sea of poverty on the back of the taxpayer. However, in a bid to understand the nature of the housing loan scheme for the elite, questions posed by this publication to various officials including, Hungwe were either avoided or referred to other top government officials without yielding any meaningful responses.

This resulted in a chain of unanswered questions. Hungwe, the PSC chairperson, upon being quizzed of the exact role of the entity in administering the loan scheme referred questions to the body’s secretary Ambassador Jonathan Wutawunashe.

“Thank you for the update, I suggest that you get in touch with the secretary of the commission, Ambassador Wutawunashe,” Hungwe said last week. He once again declined to comment this week. Wutawunashe in turn, referred the Independent to Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration and Finance in the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) Martin Rushwaya.

“The Public Service Commission does not deal with conditions of service for ministers. The Constitution definitely restricts the ambit of the commission to the civil service. You may wish to talk to the Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration and Finance Dr Rushwaya,” he said.

As advised by Wutawunashe, the Independent then approached Rushwaya, who declined to discuss the matter saying the National Housing and Social Amenities ministry was responsible “for buying the houses. It is not us who are implementing that programme. It is being done by the ministry of National Housing and Social Amenities. They are the ones who are buying the houses. That is their mandate.”

National Housing and Social Amenities minister Daniel Garwe and permanent secretary Joy Makumbe have not been forthcoming.

Last week, Garwe said he was “out of the country” while Makumbe said “I will forward the questions to our publicity department”.

Head of the ministry’s publicity department Sikha Ncube said she needed to consult her principals.

“The challenge is that we are working as a whole government. The programme is not being handled by one ministry. We have Finance, Housing, Public Works. However, Finance will be your central unit. I will talk to my principals tomorrow (Thursday) and brief you on what they would have said, but Finance is more central on that,” she said on Wednesday. However, when contacted yesterday, she did not pick up the calls.

Ncube had initially promised to provide a detailed response this week but nothing came.

“The responses are being cleared. I will send once approved,” she said last week.

Questions sent to Treasury chief director communications Clive Mphambela since last week are yet to be responded to. “I have forwarded them (questions) to the relevant department. I am yet to receive a response,” he said. Mphambela did not respond to the Independent’s messages this week. Sources said this week ministers who reside outside Harare were being “prioritised but all ministers are set to benefit”. Government has around 45 Cabinet, provincial and deputy ministers.

As part of their terms of service, ministers also receive benefits which include two vehicles (a Mercedes Benz sedan and an off-roader), a secretary, and security at the principal residence and protocol aides.

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