By Fungi Kwaramba
Legislators from both Zanu PF and the MDC have expressed anger at the government’s decision to suspend the purchase of new vehicles for them — with the money budgeted for that now earmarked to fight the deadly cholera outbreak which has claimed dozens of lives and left thousands of people requiring treatment.
This comes after President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration recently declared the cholera epidemic a national emergency, as it struggles to raise about $60 million needed to contain the highly infectious disease — which by end of this week had killed at least 32 people.
MPs from both the ruling party and the opposition who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said government’s decision to suspend the purchasing of the vehicles and channel that money to fighting cholera was a “travesty” of justice as they were entitled to all their benefits.
Outspoken and independent legislator for Norton Temba Mliswa led the chorus of disapproval over the decision saying it was wrong for the government to suspend the MPs’ entitlements simply because there was a disease outbreak.
“You cannot suspend people’s salaries because there is a cholera outbreak. The problem is that councils are mismanaged. This is an issue of mismanagement.
“The issue is also about land barons taking over and there is no master plan anymore. The city (of Harare) has lost order. Town councils are so corrupt and at times people are building on wetlands using septic tanks that will get into water sources … and all this has nothing to do with people’s benefits,” Mliswa said.
“There are new MPs who don’t have what we have. You cannot say we are building a nation by destroying the other arm. I have told them (the government) to source cars locally but they have not listened. What is not in doubt is that Parliament is under-funded already. What we need are reserves for such emergencies,” he added.
Although Mliswa is fighting for his colleagues, he is renowned for having consistently refused to accept a parliamentary vehicle ever since he became an MP.
“Whilst it may seem a good move to suspend MPs & Ministers vehicles, in general, parliamentarians are underpaid and for as long as this remains the status quo, the checks and balances in terms of oversight will be compromised. Kenyan parliamentarians are paid plus or minus $10k a month. I’m the last person to be extravagant. I’ve never taken a car and believe that government should use locally assembled cars.
“Besides meagre salaries & fuel & accommodation allowances, local MPs don’t get much else in the way of benefits.
“Yes, I’m very well aware that the economy is struggling & I’m in no way saying that MPs must be over-catered for whilst the majority is struggling, but I’m saying there are other areas that will make a bigger impact if targeted,” Mliswa said further on microblogging site Twitter.
Before the cholera epidemic hit the country, the government had set aside $20 million for the purchase of vehicles for MPs and Senators.
“We have had to suspend certain things to make sure that we deal with this endemic immediately. That is exactly what we have done,” new Finance minister Mthuli Ncube told journalists early this week as he mobilised funds to channel towards fighting the disease.
Cholera — a treatable, poor man’s disease which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and which is lethal if not attended to promptly — has struck Zimbabwe for the fourth time in 15 years.
Such is the speed with which the current epidemic is spreading that there is growing fear among ordinary Zimbabweans that the rising cases of cholera may approach the disastrous levels seen in the outbreak of 2008 which killed more than 4 000 people nationwide.
That outbreak — as is the case with the current one — was blamed on poor public health policies, as well as the country’s broken water and sanitation infrastructure.
Amid the welcome intervention by the corporate world which has chipped in with millions of dollars towards fighting the current outbreak, some of the MPs also complained to the Daily News yesterday that they had “invested a lot” to be in Parliament, and were thus deserving of their perks, including cars.
“Our MPs are using buses to go to Parliament and we have no capacity to monitor the cholera outbreak even if we wanted to because we have no resources.
“And it is not like the vehicles are for free, we will have to pay for them at the end of the day. If you compare us with other regions, we are the least appreciated legislators,” an MDC Alliance MP moaned.
A legislator from the ruling party said while he had a campaign vehicle, it was his right to get a new vehicle under the parliamentary scheme.
“Money to fight cholera is coming from donors and not the government. I know this because I am part of Zanu PF.
“What they should do is just to give us our dues because we invested a lot of money and we also need vehicles to use while we are discharging our duties,” the MP said.
However, Zanu PF chief whip Pupurai Togarepi said they were more concerned about “serving people and saving lives” in the wake of the cholera outbreak.
“Right now, our concern is to contain the epidemic. It is the number one priority of the president. That is why you saw him visiting victims. We don’t need cars and we want to save lives,” Togarepi said.
His MDC counterpart Prosper Mutseyami concurred with him saying their primary focus was on “joining government and companies to fight cholera”.
Under the Parliamentary Vehicle Loan Scheme, Treasury purchases the cars for the MPs — who in turn pay back the money as a loan during their five-year tenure in the National Assembly.
Generally, the legislators buy the brand new, all-terrain SUVs for a song — as the repayment terms are extremely friendly and flexible.
Zimbabwe has more than 350 MPs despite having a relatively small population of just over 15 million people.
Political analysts told the Daily News that the MPs lacked “a moral compass” as their anger over their delayed cars was against common decency.
“I think it is an unfortunate development given that national interests must take precedence over personal comforts.
“Given the crisis that the country has gone through, it’s high time public officials learn to delay their personal gratification,” Namibia-based academic Admire Mare said.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the MPs were clearly more concerned about their own welfare, rather than that of the people who had voted them into Parliament.
“They are not justified in demanding vehicles from a country with empty coffers. But in Zimbabwe getting into political office is not for the purpose of serving people, but a route to personal aggrandisement.
“This is sadly, the nature of our politics. It’s a job creation and money-spinning venture for the elected and the appointed. This is Zimbabwe,” he told the Daily News.