Last weekend, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government reneged on one of its early promises.
By delivering on former President Robert Mugabe’s extravagant promise to hand traditional chiefs vehicles worth $14 million, the new administration went back on its word, raising serious questions about what other nice-sounding promises it is going to fail to deliver on.
The new government’s 2018 National Budget statement received plaudits for the austerity measures it promised. These measures included turning down funding requests for vehicles for chiefs, ministers, heads of commissions as well as senior government officials, all amounting to $169 million.
“Clearly, the fiscus cannot sustain the … demands, if we are to achieve the objectives towards a ‘New Economic Order’,” Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said during his December 7 budget presentation.
“Hence, the 2018 budget took account of value for money and affordability as guiding principles in the allocation of resources and is unable to provide for the…vehicle requests.”
Just over a month later, chiefs, for long willing cogs in the ZANU-PF election machine, were taking delivery of the vehicles Chinamasa said government would not buy.
The opportunity cost of the expenditure on chiefs vehicles is glaring. That money could have been better spent on any chronically under-funded programmes in health, education or social protection.
But there is a more insidious cost — the loss of trust.
By that one move, the new government — for whom the jury is still out — undermines public confidence in its ability to break from the unhappy past. Clearly, government lied when it undertook to reverse Mugabe’s decision to buy cars for the nearly 300 chiefs in this country, which is bad.
Or, they reneged on their promise in the intervening period since Chinamasa’s pronouncement, which is equally damning. This raises inevitable questions — what else have they lied about? Which promises are they going to renege on, next?
The loss of confidence in the new administration’s project levies a far greater cost on what it is trying to achieve, than the quantum of the expenditure on the chiefs’ vehicles. We do not, for a moment, believe this trite fact was lost on government. However, all reason would have fallen by the wayside the moment political calculations were factored into this questionable spending decision.
Chiefs are, after all, considered a vital piece in the ZANU-PF election jigsaw, in flagrant violation of the Constitution. Many of the traditional leaders do seem, after all, to be of negotiable affections.
On October 28, Chief Fortune Charumbira, head of the chiefs’ council, pledged his cohort’s allegiance to Mugabe and his re-election bid, disregarding the country’s supreme law, which enjoins traditional leaders to be apolitical, in the process.
Less than three months after that, last weekend, after Mnangagwa came bearing gifts, Charumbira publicly denounced the fallen Mugabe, to exalt the new president. The chiefs’ allegiance has been secured, but at what price? Financial Gazette Editorial