BY BRIAN CHITEMBA
ZIMBABWE has a complex socio-economic and political matrix. The economy is in a tailspin. Political upheavals have been the daily dose since the turn of the century.
The Zanu PF government has over the years proved to be more committed to splurging millions of dollars on elections and political activities. The latest being the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) presidential elections, which were won by Chiefs Council president Fortune Charumbira.
Charumbira is unapologetically Zanu PF. This is despite that there are legal provisions which discourage traditional leaders from being brazenly partisan.
But in Zimbabwe, like elsewhere in Africa, it is all about politics of the stomach.
Political patronage roots in Zanu PF run deep. Chiefs and other traditional leaders play a huge role in garnering support for the former liberation movement. In turn, they are pampered through attractive perks. It is a well-knit political patronage system. A good case for prebendalism and political corruption.
The revelations by Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda that the government spent a jaw-dropping US$1,9 million to campaign for Charumbira to be PAP president needs scrutiny by the fourth estate — the press.
“In the first round, there was some change of US$300 000 and then in the second round, demonstrating to you, Your Excellency (President Emmerson Mnangagwa), that we were aware that we should not abuse your generosity, so we were very minimal in our expenditure. Second round, we came again and US$1,6 million was given to us. Thank you very much, Your Excellency,” Mudenda told a PAP Southern African Regional Caucus.
This raises questions about the priorities of government expenditure. It is not in doubt that the Zanu PF government places politics ahead of service delivery, considering the pathetic situation in public hospitals and schools.
Apart from the US$1,9 million spent on the Charumbira campaign, government spent about US$20 million on the March 26 by-elections. More money will be used to buy cars for the MPs. This is just a few months away from the 2023 elections.
The budget for the next elections is not yet out. But in 2018, about US$274 million was used on elections, meaning a similar amount maybe required for the 2023 polls. In five years, over US$500 million has gone towards elections.
Elections are part of a functional democracy. Cancelling or postponing the plebiscite may raise questions about constitutionalism and democratisation but in a malfunctioning economy like Zimbabwe the cost is high.
Government’s budget to secure Charumbira’s victory is problematic given that at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH), surgical operations were suspended due to a lack of anesthetic induction drugs that are administered to make patients sleep during surgery. In the past, surgical operations have been suspended at Mpilo Central Hospitals. Precisely, service delivery in major hospitals has nose-dived.
At the receiving end are cancer patients. Radiotherapy machines at Parirenyatwa and Mpilo are constantly breaking down, putting lives of thousands of cancer patients at risk. Private oncologists who offer such treatment charge about US$1 400 per session. A patient may require up to four radiotherapy sessions. The majority are left stranded.
The point is that of the millions of dollars spent on the PAP presidency campaign, government could have spared a thought for the poor masses failing to access basic healthcare. The penchant for releasing funding for political excesses while social services suffer is appalling.
Government must prioritise healthcare and education, among other social services, as much as it is focused on political expediency. Millions of dollars spent on political campaigns and hiring international public relations firms can help save lives.
Yes, to some extent roads are being fixed. But the continued deterioration in public hospitals and schools has stripped the nation of its dignity. This is why brain drain is worsening.
Channelling resources to key areas that improve standards of living is urgent. The imbalance between political spending and social services is shocking. This must change if the government cares for the masses.