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Election 2018: Uneven paying field

Just as bailiffs emptied the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T)’s Harvest House head offices in central Harare of furniture items last Friday, final touches were being put on a giant marquee on the grounds of the Chinhoyi University of Technology, venue of President Robert Mugabe’s latest rally.

File picture of Tendai Biti, Morgan Tsvangirai, Joice Mujuru and Robert Mugabe in parliament

A glaring contrast. One party — MDC-T — laid prostrate by financial problems, whereas another — ZANU-PF — flaunted its convening power, backed by solid funding.
It has not always been like this.

One breezy August evening in 2014, a livid Mugabe publicly rebuked his party’s top officials — calling them inept — for failing to fund the ZANU-PF women’s league conference, just a week after another poorly organised, under-funded party youth conference.

“We are told the party is penniless, that in fact we are accumulating debts through continuous bank overdrafts. Yet we know we own such companies as Tregers, Catercraft and Zidco which own several fuel stations all over the country,” Mugabe railed, seemingly oblivious that the firms he was invoking were at various stages of dysfunction.

Financial ruin
Of course, other factors contributed to the two shambolic ZANU-PF conferences that August.

The party’s factional warfare had just intensified with the entrance of Mugabe’s wife, Grace, into politics.

She would eventually hound then vice president, Joice Mujuru, out of both party and government just four months later.

But by August, signs of trouble had started to show.

Didymus Mutasa, the party’s secretary for administration who was also acting as its finance chief, was a close Mujuru ally whose effectiveness in the party had been severely constrained by his association with the under-siege Mujuru.

By all indications, chief of which is its mismanagement of the national economy, ZANU-PF does not have a stellar record in managing its own finances.

The 2015 ZANU-PF central committee report gave a rare peek into the party’s finances.

The party was surviving on a $6 million bank overdraft, having spent $11 million against income of just $3,9 million — most of it from government, in terms of the Political Parties Finance Act. Subscriptions, another source of income, were down 65 percent.

The party could not even pay its phone bills and salaries.

However, the party is guaranteed millions of dollars annually from the National Budget in terms of the Political Parties Finance Act.

It also routinely shakes down parastatals, farmers and other private businesses each time it seeks to raise funds.

Friends with money
From 2015, after Mujuru and her allies were jettisoned from the party at the December congress, ZANU-PF’s funding problems, if they are there, have not spilled over into the public domain.

After that congress, Mugabe appointed Obert Mpofu, frequently mentioned in connection with the plunder of the Marange diamonds, as the ZANU-PF treasurer. Mpofu has not disappointed.

Ahead of the December 2014 congress, Mpofu, a man of some means, donated $70 000 towards the event costs.

Two months later, Mpofu donated $40 000 cash and 20 000 litres of fuel towards Mugabe’s birthday rally, hosted in Victoria Falls.

Exactly a week before the event, organisers had only managed to raise $4 800 in cash, far below the province’s $80 000 target.

Broke local authorities, and parastatals — the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and Zimbabwe Power Company — had also been prevailed upon to “donate” goods and cash.

This is how ZANU-PF typically raises cash for its events, including the annual Mugabe birthday rally, which has an average budget of $1 million.

Uneven field
The MDC-T is Zimbabwe’s biggest and most influential opposition party, which has given the most formidable challenge to Mugabe and his ZANU-PF.

The party has handed Mugabe two losses at the polls; first in 2000 when it engineered the defeat of ZANU-PF’s constitutional proposals in a referendum and second in 2008, ending ZANU-PF’s parliamentary majority for the first time since independence.

MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai also defeated Mugabe in a first round presidential vote that year.

Afflicted by its own internal bloodletting, which has seen the party splintering regularly, almost after every election, the MDC-T’s financial woes severely undermine its capacity to challenge effectively ZANU-PF next year.

Heading into elections next year, opposition concerns of an uneven electoral playing field, where ZANU-PF hogs public media and uses draconian security laws to hobble its rivals, could well be over an uneven paying field.

It takes money to mount a meaningful electoral contest, especially against a long-entrenched ruling party that is oblivious of the separation of party and government. Moreso, when that government has custody of a printing press.

Raiding parastatals

ZANU-PF officials in government often raid parastatals under their supervision, to help fund the party.

For years, this practice went on in secrecy.

However, the internecine conflict which has wracked the party since 2014 has brought some unprecedented disclosures on how ZANU-PF raises funds.

In 2014, then deputy energy minister Munacho Mutezo was accused of stealing $40 000 from the loss making power utility, ZESA Holdings.

He denied the charge, saying he had deposited the money into the Manicaland Women’s League bank account.

“I did not source ZESA money for my own pockets. All donations, including the ZESA money, went to accounts controlled by the leadership of the party,” he was quoted saying at the time.

“I am not accountable to newspapers, but to ZANU-PF. Were you told how all the money raised for the ZANU-PF 6th National Congress was sourced?”

Last year, Higher Education Minister, Jonathan Moyo, found himself in the cross-hairs of the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, which accused him of abusing close to half a million dollars from the Zimbabwe Manpower Development Fund (ZIMDEF), which falls under his ministry.

Moyo denies the charges, which he says have been trumped up by his ZANU-PF rivals.

The case is still before the courts.

However, it emerged that some of the ZIMDEF cash was used to fund First Lady Grace Mugabe’s rallies, as well as a “Million Man March” held by the ZANU-PF youth league in May last year to rally support for Mugabe.

An MDC-T spokesman this week complained about lack of funding from Treasury, in line with the Political Parties Finance Act, which guarantees a budget allocation to all parties with at least five percent of the total votes from the last election.

ZANU-PF, which rides on government and indirectly controls the national purse, clearly has no such problems.

Going into next year’s election, ZANU-PF’s advantage of incumbency — long held through its control of the State’s instruments of coercion and persuasion — could be further strengthened by its financial muscle and the opposition’s inability to muster the wherewithal to mount an effective campaign. Financial Gazette