By Andrew Kunambura
The cash-strapped Zimbabwe government is understood to have splashed millions of dollars buying latest top-of-the-range vehicles for Cabinet ministers, the Financial Gazette has learnt.
At least US$1,4 million was expended on first rate Range Rover Vogue SE vehicles, which were allocated this year to seven Cabinet ministers. Government insiders said resources were also expended on an undisclosed number of Land Rover Discovery 4 models and Toyota Land Cruisers for deputy ministers.
The purchase of the vehicles has been viewed as serious extravagance and gross insensitivity by a financially struggling government that is currently in sixes and sevens as to where it will source money to avert impeding hunger after a failed summer cropping season.
The spending spree on fast and luxurious cars comes at a time when the nearly bankrupt administration has been struggling to bankroll a string of critical services, including funding the deteriorating health care system and paying an increasingly restive and bloated civil service that is gobbling more than 80 percent of the government budget.
Most worrying is that some of the ministers appear to have accepted the golden offer at a time when their ministries are barely making ends meet, let alone able to pay wages.
Officials at CMED (Private) Limited said seven ministers were this year allocated Range Rover Vogue SE vehicles.
This is a departure from what government has provided in the past which has normally been Mercedes Benz and Land Rover Discovery models.
While the Financial Gazette could not immediately establish the full list of the seven out of the 28 Cabinet ministers who benefited, the paper can report that four ministers, Ignatius Chombo (Local Government Minister), Obert Mpofu (Transport), Saviour Kasukuwere (Environment, Water and Climate and rookie Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira are driving the unmarked gas guzzlers that normally come with three-litre engines.
The four recently took possession of Range Rover Vogue SEs estimated to cost US$195 000 apiece. In comparison, the Mercedes Benz E350 and Land Rover Discovery 4 vehicles, which have normally been allocated to ministers, are respectively est-imated to cost US$130 000 and US$140 000.
This development, which has raised eyebrows in Cabinet and parliamentary corridors, sees government spending at least US$65 000 more on each of the seven vehicles giving a total of US$455 000 additional drain on the fiscus.
The amount is enough to cover a month’s wage bill for at least 3 321 lowest paid civil servants who earn US$137 a month.
A source at CMED, where government vehicles are maintained, said they received a new list of the cars which has since been added to their inventory.
“I have seen brand new vehicles added to the list we have. Kasukuwere, Chombo, Mpofu and Mupfumira are some of the ministers driving these cars,” the source said.
CMED company secretary, Oliver Chirongoma, however, refused to shade light on the cars that have reportedly been added to their stock.
Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa was unreachable.
Asked to confirm if he took delivery of the vehicle, Kasukuwere simply answered: “I am a minister. Am I expected to walk around the city on foot?”
Chombo, Mupfumira and Mpofu could not be reached by the time of going to print.
Zimbabwe is currently experiencing a severe liquidity crisis, with service delivery remaining either poor or non-existent, while schools and hospitals as well as other public amenities remain grossly underfunded. In 2013, government spent over US$20 million purchasing vehicles for 26 Cabinet ministers, 13 ministers of state and 24 deputies.
Last year, the government again bought similar vehicles for provincial affairs ministers and with reports of an imminent Cabinet reshuffle, it is likely to increase its vehicle spending.
Dubbed in motoring circles as a monster car, the Range Rover Vogue SE has many exclusive signature features that make it a preserve for the rich.
A check on the Land Rover website, the British company which manufactures the vehicle, indicate that the car offers a wide range of optional extras that take personalisation further and is fitted with a suite of intuitive technologies such as adaptive dynamics that constantly monitors its movement, reacting accordingly to minimise body roll and give the driver exclusive comfort.
Other fitted technologies include the surrounding digital camera system, a premium audio system that delivers perfectly optimised sound quality and permanent four wheel drive.
It also has a 20-inch five split-spoke ‘Style 502’ alloy wheels, semi aniline leather seats, front climate seats, heated rear seats, with 20-way driver/20-way front passenger seats and driver and passenger seat memory as well as xenon headlamps with signature lighting (includes headlamp powerwash and a choice of either fixed or sliding panoramic roof (including power blinds). Financial Gazette